DANIEL BARENBOIM – “WELL – TEMPERED CLAVIER”, BOOK II, BY JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, WARNER CLASSICS.
THINK : Many musical people do try the cycle through Bach’s piano works and there is a universe of Bach piano recordings out there since Glenn Gould and associates brought these more to people’s attention starting in the 1960’s. Strangely, I had a Zenith compact phonograph as a boy and would steal father’s “Well – Tempered Clavier” and other Bach piano and little by little got to know about these sorts of recordings and the tones and deep musical ideas and themes that go into them. Bach had many styles that come out in his work despite today’s comments by many that “it doesn’t really sound like the pianoforte” of old or “like the harpsichord” or “not like Mozart” or “too long” or other things, including “not like Glenn Gould”. The Gould recordings are highly suggested though there are others and for live performances, while I do suggest Maestro Barenboim I continue to miss his playing of these sorts of things (and the live ones, really); though Andras Schiff gives stupendous renditions of Bach on the piano that are greatly memorable live. Never make the mistake that recorded music is a substitute for live and there are piano masters and virtuosos who sound greatly better, who lift the spirits more, with the live performances and these are not to be missed.
Maestro Barenboim gave years ago a cycle of Mozart piano that was so perfect it annoyed the ears after maybe the tenth time I played it. This recording of Bach is equally outstanding and with its harmonies between right and left hand, the independent notes that have both working with the same counts and time together and the like. One thing one notices with the Bach on piano is it does seem simple and maybe even a little slow in tempo over the life of any piece, though the playing is over sometimes as the listener finds oneself at the end of any playing without being able to remember the start – this is a pathmark of the rich compositions for piano of all ages. Mozart actually worked against this in many ways as illustrated his pieces sometimes depend upon themes recurring every so often that refer to the start of different pieces and then to other pieces altogether. Schubert with a melodic style and with very happy imagery and a folksy tone to his pieces sometimes is similar.
Nonetheless, nothing beats Maestro Barenboim’s Bach that has the ears anticipating his notes that are as the original composer would want them on a piano in the modern age. Again, the Gould recordings are the subject of discussion at first, really, when such music becomes the topic of anything, though the Gould recordings themselves, without being completely shelved have a special place in any music library next to the media of the living and Barenboim is far from the end in his from the ground up virtuosity in the playing, tonality and sound, melody and all of these “Well – tempered” pieces composed so long ago. For those who know nothing of classical music, and rarely do I review musical pieces and should probably do more, the Brandenburg Concerts are a good place to start, as are these pieces and as played by Barenboim are sublime and while maybe not easy to understand, are not whatsoever challenging nor stifling for the musical ear, as for example, John Ives’ or [Arnold] Schoenberg’s compositions might be for the beginner or even for someone who has listened for a number of years. A case in point is I had always known of Schoenberg and his style, but was over the age of forty for having heard it for the first time. I do not know if this is common, though with what I had been taught of the person I did not seek him out. This review is a little survey of things and the writer hopes that the reader does not mind of it : The world of the piano is such that we might all make some music in it, though very, very few are good at it and within the universe of the piano there are many of what a physicist might call sub – universes or “subverses” of musical compositions, styles and associated circles of virtuosity.
Choose one and follow it. Maestro Barenboim in this interconnected and increasingly complex world of recorded and other media, and the chaos outside the artist’s hall or studio make one want to take refuge and pause at least for a while to listen and educate ourselves not about an age of Bach long – past, nor of those who have passed as his musical descendants (maybe those, too, if one wishes) but with Barenboim in his performances and media that make things live as creations that invite new ideas and memories. This is an outstanding recording of the piano by Bach and will live itself, standing alone, if one will allow the term, for a long time caeteris paribus. As for the live Bach I wish you well. A finely great, excellent recording.