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J.S. Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Book 1

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is a well-known work consisting of 24 preludes and fugues, in each major and minor key. Performers and musicologists have long wondered exactly what was meant by well-tempered . It means, of course, that the instrument is meant to be tuned in such a way that the different pieces in all 24 keys sound pure and agreeable, something that Bach's obituary said he achieved. Yet not until recently has it been possible to tune a keyboard instrument in this manner. In 2005, musicologist Bradley Lehman published two articles in Early Music, entitled Bach's extraordinary temperament: our Rosetta Stone , where he lays out what he thinks would well-temper a keyboard. And this recording is the first Well-Tempered Clavier to use this tuning. For more information, see www.larips.com. If it were only for the arcane question of tuning this recording would have little more than intellectual interest. There are other factors that make it, perhaps, one of the finest available recordings of this work. First, Peter Watchorn brings to this recording his more than 35 years experience playing Bach. Watchorn is a consummate performer, not only injecting energy and vibrancy into his playing, but also approaching this recording less as a collection of preludes and fugues than a single work consisting of 48 movements. This large-scale approach combines with a cyclic approach as Watchorn tacks a 49th movement at the end: a da capo performance of the opening prelude, which shows that the work has come full-circle. But there's more. Watchorn performs this recording on a pedal harpsichord, which might be considered the string version of an organ. The pedal harpsichord has pedals, like an organ, that play low notes, allowing the performer to approach Bach's intricate counterpoint in a different manner. The sound of this instrument is delicious; with a full range of bass notes and treble sounds, it is a truly complete harpsichord. A copy of a 1646 Ruckers, this har --http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Dec06/Bach_Watchorn_MO0201.htm
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Product Details

  • Performer: Peter Watchorn
  • Conductor: none
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (December 1, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Musica Omnia
  • ASIN: B000NHKD0C
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,299 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By jay mullin on May 9, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This has to be about the best performance of the WTC; the harpsichord tuning of Bach gives it a brilliance and sheen and richness that is absent in other performances. The ambience of the building enhances the recording. When I close my eyes and listen, it feels like I'm in the Thomaskircke, listening to Bach himself. I can't wait for Book II.
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There are many fine recordings of Bach's WTC out there. But this new one by Peter Watchorn is the finest I know. The combination of instrument (a magnificent pedal harpsichord), tuning (the new "Bach tuning" proposed by Bradley Lehman), sound engineering, and of course consummate playing make for an extraordinary listening experience. So definitive does Watchorn's version seem, that I now find it impossible to listen to any others, including those by Glen Wilson (harpsichord) and Rosalyn Tureck (piano). Watchorn considers the WTC an organic musical whole, not just a collection of pieces. Perhaps he's right. Certainly his playing brings out something I hadn't noticed before in all my hours of listening to other versions: how through its music the WTC consistently displays a profound worldview, one in which the love of the Creator transforms all things, even the most mundane, and gives them infinite worth. Among the gifts of creation, we now have this magnificent version of the WTC. Give it a try. You will not be disappointed.
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First, a warning: If you find wide use of tempo rubato to be a precious affectation, you're not going to like this recording. Watchorn has no reservations about the technique. I found it somewhat distracting myself, but I know that there are those who can't stand it even one little bit, especially in their Bach. They'll want to find another recording.

Second, another warning: If for whatever reason you dislike highly-ornamented performances, again, this album is not for you. Watchorn has no qualms about decorating right in the center of the room (for example, the confusingly-ornamented closing note of the c-minor fugue, which mars an otherwise crystalline performance).

But all that is a question of taste. This is an excellent recording of a virtuoso performance, even if it's not, to this listener's ears, the perfect gem the earlier reviews would indicate.
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Dr. Peter Watchorn is the consummate performer of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier. Dr Watchorn has not only studied and implemented the brilliant historically informed practices of true Baroque keyboard performance, but he also understands the construction and tuning of the Baroque claviers of the great Bach family. Bradley Lehman's study of the title page of Book 1 of the WTC has resulted in a Bach tuning in which each key has tonal characteristics that lends themselves perfectly to the unique melodic shape and tempo of each prelude and fugue. Dr Watchorn's plays on a highly resonant Baroque harpsichord with the Bach-Lehman tuning and so the preludes and fugues shine with a light that is breathtaking and beautiful beyond verbal description. Many versions of the WTC are played on a piano (I own many of those, too) tuned in the modern style which results in a blurring and muddying of Bach's intricate counterpoint. Peter Watchorn's playing makes each contrapuntal lines stand out clear as day. The overtone series are clean and the sound is soothing, yet exciting to the ear. This is the veritable music of the spheres. We have here a true exposition of the preludes and fugues played in every key on a truly well-tempered clavier. Thank you Peter Watchorn for giving me, my friends and family thousands of hours of joy journeying through Bach's keyboard work of sublime, fractal beauty!
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