It's been an eventful season for J.S. Bach's keyboard music, with the recent 80th birthday celebration for the late Glenn Gould putting his celebrated recordings of the Goldberg Variations and Art of Fugue back in the spotlight. Whether coincidental or not, Hungarian pianist András Schiff is returning to Bach with a new recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the iconic two-volume set of 24 preludes and fugues in every key.
This is Schiff's second foray into the Well-Tempered Clavier, his first coming in 1985, just three years after Gould's death. By that point, Schiff was in his early 30s and well on his way to becoming a major-league Bach interpreter. He had finished third at the 1975 Leeds piano competition when he daringly chose to play Bach's cerebral Keyboard Concerto in D minor rather than a big, showy concerto by Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. In the decades since, he has made multiple recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations and Partitas, while also putting his stamp on generous swaths of Mozart, Schubert and Schumann.
In an age when many pianists favor quirky Bach performances, Schiff’s latest readings are straightforward, direct and highly focused. Unlike many in the post-Gould generation, Schiff doesn’t overstate his slurs and articulations, calling attention to them, nor does he favor extreme tempo choices. This can lower the performance's interpretive profile, to be sure, but it also gives the set a natural poise, elegance and clarity of texture.
Schiff will perform the complete Well-Tempered Clavier 92nd St. Y this fall, offering Book 1 on Oct. 27 and Book 2 on Nov. 1. The performances inaugurate a multiseason Bach Project, which will feature solo and orchestral performances in various cities as well.
The Well-Tempered Clavier
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