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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, BWV 870-893 [151:33]
Borbála Dobozy (harpsichord)
rec. September 2018, Phoenix Studio, Diósd, Hungary BMC CD 293 [2 CDs: 74:42 + 76:51]
Coming straight to Borbála Dobozy’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2
right after her Book 1 (review) is a shock. The instrument used for Book 2 is a recently built replica of a harpsichord from around 1706 which has a 16’ stop, and with all that extra bass oomph straight from the first Prelude in C major I was a little worried that we might be embarking on something comparable with recordings by the formidable Wanda Landowska.
Use of the 16’ stop is thankfully sparing in this set, though it is a wonderful effect and nice to have as a weapon of maximum contrast. Dobozy admits that this register would have been unusual for the period, but she is clearly inspired by this instrument. “The richness and variety of this series, unparalleled in content, prompted me to exploit more fully the opportunities for combinations of timbre, to change register more often, and in some cases to adopt an organ-like manner of performing.” The recording is also an homage to the instrument maker Jürgen Ammer, who built the case for this fine instrument but died before the project could be completed.
As with Book 1, Borbála Dobozy doesn’t go in for wild extremes of tempo, certainly not in terms of breakneck speed but also not in any kind of over-reverential slowness. She avoids rubato while introducing enough elasticity to allow the music to flow with a natural ease and sense of shape. The recording is perfectly balanced, with plenty of detail but also just enough space between the listener and the thrumming strings of the instrument to allow a highly enjoyable play through of the whole set in one sitting.
There is a vibrancy and animation in the playing here that adds an extra layer of fun when compared to Dobozy’s recording of Book 1. This is a perfectly fine and indeed superlatively musical performance, but I noted that, if we were taking the red-blooded Bach fatherhood test then it would have come out at a slightly cooler 17 children, whereas with this Book 2 we are most certainly back up to the full 20 babies. The tuning here is the more robust-sounding Neidhardt system, which has a more forgiving effect in remote keys when compared to the more fragile sounding Kirnberger III used for Book 1. The variety of colour with the various registers selected for each prelude and fugue creates a narrative in its own right, and Dobozy’s choices always seem entirely appropriate.
Where this recording wins is in lifting these preludes and in particular the fugues out of being any kind of dry academic exercise. The rhythm is infectious in the Fugue in A major, and the dramatic subsequent Fugue in A minor is a masterclass in pacing and delivery after the anticipation created in the first bars. These two are chosen almost at random, but similar comments could be made about every performance in this set. You know you are in for a fine experience within just a few minutes from the start, and there are no weak points throughout. In terms of quality for a harpsichord recording of Bach’s BWV 870-882 this is way up with the likes of Bob van Asperen (review), though there are enough differences to make one want to keep both sets.