Edition Bachakademie Vol 116 - Well-tempered Clavier Book I

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An interesting use of keyboards, with particularly good organ playing.

What an imaginative idea; and Bach would probably be the last person to object. After all, he simply specified a keyboard, though perhaps he didn’t quite have an organ in mind. Nevertheless, Levin’s division is democratic: six pairs on each of a one- and two-manual harpsichord, clavichord and organ, in this instance a church organ with a delightfully ‘chuffy’ timbre.

Mix and match, so to speak, are in very good taste; and the sound is generally very good too. Most importantly, there is no need to change the volume physically to suit the scale of each instrument because Hanssler has adjusted the levels itself. Despite a couple of instances when a harpsichord is a touch too loud, one volume setting will do. The production is artistic – though, sad to say, the performances are variable. Levin, who has proved to be an engrossingly intrepid interpreter of Beethoven and Mozart, is often cavalier here. For example, he plays the C sharp major and D minor preludes on the clavichord, but in each case he is too unyielding and the instrument’s potential for an intimately caressing form of expression is brushed aside. And the E minor pair, played on a two-manual harpsichord, is treated as no more than an unfeeling finger exercise. Levin is not metrically rigid in the preludes in F sharp major, B flat major and B major, but otherwise he seems to be driven by a compulsion to exploit the fast transient attack of clavichord and harpsichord at any cost. There is, however, a significant change when he turns to the organ. Its sustaining characteristics evoke a more gracious response, and an empathy with Bach is particularly evident in the F minor prelude, the A minor fugue (where the pedal in the last four-and-a-half bars stands out clearly) and the pair in B flat minor. Contrary to the booklet, the last pair is also on the organ and maintains a similar standard. This instrument brings out the best in Levin. Perhaps he should have used it for the whole set.'

-- Nalen Anthoni, Gramophone [11/2000]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 92116

  • UPC: 040888211624

  • Label: SWR Music

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Performer: Robert Levin