Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier II

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Volume 2
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10261. 2 CDs. 73’03+75’42

Following his Volume 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier reviewed here), Steven Devine returns with a very welcome recording of Bach’s second book of Preludes & Fugues, published around 20 years after the first book. Unlike the Book 1 Preludes and Fugues (BWV 846-869) which survive in Bach’s autograph, Book 2 (BWV 870-893) has two principal sources with contribtions by Bach’s family, but only one withs any evidence of Bach’s hand.

In the comprehensive programme notes, Steven Devine discusses the possible reasons for Bach to produce this second volume so many years after the first. The Preludes are more up-to-date in style than those in Book 1, with a move towards the Galant style, although many of the Fugues are in what was then an archaic style antico style. There is also a more developed keyboard technique.

As with the recording of Book 1, Steven Devine uses a harpsichord by Colin Booth (2000) based on a 1710 Johann Christof Fleischer instrument. It was also recorded in the same North Yorkshire church. Its attractive acoustic bloom balances a clarity of notes. The temperament used is based on Kirnberger III with some adjustments for specific pieces to allow the intended key colour as well as to respond to the natural harmonics of the harpsichord itself. The result is appropriate, with recognisable but not over-done key colour.

As to my reflections of the performance, I can do no better than repeat my comments on Devine recording of Book One. I wrote then that –

“This musically intelligent and absorbing recording demonstrates that performing Bach (or any music, for that matter) is far more the merely playing all the notes in the right order. His subtle use of articulation and rhetoric and his understanding of the Baroque idea of building up musical ideas from small motifs make for an absorbing recording that will invite repeated listening. He manages to negotiate that fine line between presenting a personal interpretation and those over-mannered performances that might be fine for a live recital but is usually off-putting on the repeat listening that a recording allows. With obvious respect to Bach and these extraordinary miniatures of musical craft, Devine brings a wide range of interpretations, matching the underlying mood of each Prelude and Fugue perfectly.”

More information and a link to the programme notes can be found here.