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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I
Dina Ugorskaja (piano)
rec. 2015, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
CAVI-MUSIC 8553350 [2 CDs: 137:09]

Not long ago I reviewed Book II of Dina Ugorskaja’s cycle of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. It had been recorded back in 2015 at the Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich. Both books were originally issued together in 2016, but soon went out of circulation. Thankfully they now make a welcome return; Cavi-music have this time reissued them separately.

For those who haven’t come across Ugorskaja, she was born in Leningrad in 1973. Her father was renowned pianist Anatol Ugorski, her mother musicologist Maja Elik. Progress on the piano was swift, and she gave her first performance at the Leningrad Philharmonic at the age of only seven. Following a series of anti-Semitic threats, the family fled the Soviet Union in 1990 and relocated to Berlin. Dina studied both in Berlin and Detmold, and mentors included Edith Picht-Axenfeld and András Schiff. Ugorskaja forged a distinguished concert and recording career. In 2016 she secured a teaching post at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. In September 2019 the pianist sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer, aged only forty-six.

Angela Hewitt summed up this marvelous cycle of pieces when she referred to them as “…….an inexhaustible treasure trove of the greatest possible music, combining contrapuntal wizardry with immense gift for expressing human emotion in all its forms. Bach amazes us by absolutely never running out of steam. In The Well-Tempered Clavier, we find a piece to suit every mood and every occasion.” Ugorskaja’s thoughtful and intelligent approach to this music reveals this vast emotional range. Ornaments are elegant and unobtrusive and tempi seem just right. Textures are revealing and laid bare.

Precision of fingerwork is showcased in the G major and B flat Preludes, and one marvels at the clear articulation. This same clarity is a compelling feature of the Fugue of the latter. Lucidity is all too evident in the complex 4-voice Fugue in B minor, for which she scores full marks. I love the refined delicacy of the Preludes of the E flat minor and B flat minor, with some diaphanous luminosity achieved in the former. The D major and minor Preludes have a gleeful spring in their step, which elevate the spirit.

The cycle is beautifully recorded, and facilitates plenty of detail. The booklet contains a discussion the pianist had with musicologist Katharina Raabe. In it she discusses her approach to Bach playing. The conversation is continued in the booklet to Book 11. All told, these are revelatory performances by a pianist with the Midas touch.

Stephen Greenbank

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