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I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Pierre Hantaï performs Bach's Le Clavier bien tempéré

LittleSnapper.png Bach wrote two collections of keyboard pieces around the same construction: prelude and fugue, in each key, major and minor. He seemed to choose this design not only to show off his invention, but also to challenge the tuning system of the time to accommodate his chromatic ascent up the scale(s). They are respectfully called The Well-Tempered Clavier, and today we refer to the first collection as "book one," and you guessed it, the second as "book two." Some of the preludes resemble the light 2-part inventions, not to mention a few of the fugues. However, the music in these collections is a couple steps more complex and (consequently) richer. The collection has stayed in the "repertoire" or canon since Bach's time, being celebrated by such famous composer/pianists as Beethoven and Chopin. Like much of Bach's music, these pieces are rich and compact, frugal perhaps, but also enduring. It's been several years now since harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï recorded the WTC 1 on Mirare. Enthusiasts of this music today have many choices, this being a popular piece. I have enjoyed this on both piano and harpsichord, with one favorite being the piano rendition by Frederich Gulda. Hantaï is not nearly as eclectic a performer as the late Mr. Gulda nor Mr. Glenn Gould. Come to think of it, I have never heard such eclectic interpretations on the harpsichord. What makes Hantaï's recording a winner is a combination of factors. First, just as the sound of a piano can differ, harpsichords too have different sound qualities. This is a delicious instrument, sounding practically like a strong clavichord at times, with that richness. It's almost got a quality we could say was "fruity." Second, the sound recording is first rate, clear as a bell, even if we might occasionally hear Hantaï breath. His performance is also not mono-stylstic (i.e., it's not all fast, or all cautiously slow). He takes each piece on its own, giving it a choice of tempo and pulse that always seems spot-on. Sometimes it's easy to miss the extra notes peppered-in as ornaments, but they're there. He will pause at times to make a gesture, but more often than not, he can hold a regular beat, just shy of sounding like a machine. Doing so here is a mark of virtuosity. Hantaï has plenty of experience with ensemble music and meeting the challenges of Bach's solo keyboard works. This recording shows off his talents with this material. That said, I sometimes preferred my more mannered recordings when I want to dip my toe into some WTC. This is not a criticism however, it's more commentary on my own preferences. His role here is to authentically produce this work of Bach within the sound world germane to Bach. Over emphasizing something, applying extreme rubato, or adding to the text like some pianists can do would be against Hantaï's mantra here. He is wise to stay clear of these temptations, the opportunities great in a work of such depth amid a seemingly simple context. To recap: sensible interpretation with a delicious-sounding harpsichord. Enough tracks show off Hantaï's finger dexterity and sense of adventure. As a counterpoint, Hanaï is also sensitive to the character of each piece so that each one isn't just finger fireworks. This may be a recording you choose to listen to in smaller chunks or in small tasty bites. Coupled with other recordings, this will likely add value (and satisfaction) towards your enjoyment of the first installment of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. To date, I have not see a Volume 2 published.

Bach Project

Jean-Marie Leclair: Sonatas