Bach: WTC

J.S. Bach: Das Wolhtemperierte Clavier
Davitt Moroney
Harmonia Mundi musique d'abord 1901285/88 (4 CDs)

As an elaboration to my declaration of The Well-Tempered Clavier as the most significant of Bach's compositions, I should note that its didactic purpose suits well my personal interest in Bach. Here we have a chance to see Bach's handling of many different fugues, as well as a wide array of devices in the preludes. The thematic variety is also a welcome contrast to some of his sets.

The preludes of Book I are relatively simple, and so those of Book II are generally far more interesting. If I had to suggest only one book, it would clearly be the second. Beyond the didactic intent, I simply find these preludes & fugues to be stimulating and enjoyable compositions.

While the present performance is easily my favorite, I cannot claim that it is a definitive achievement in any sense. What Moroney has done is to delve into the phrasing of these pieces, finding new relationships that others may have missed. I find his efforts here to be very exciting and successful, precisely because they take us away from some of the clichés of phrasing which had developed in the earlier part of the Baroque revival. Each item is instilled with a uniqueness often lacking in other performances.

However, that's not to say I value this performance for its novelty. Rather, Moroney's approach seems distinctly right to me, and after being acquainted with this set, I have difficulty listening to others I previously enjoyed. On the other hand, this performance is more a beginning than an end. Moroney's approach puts even more strain on finger dexterity, and because it was new, the polish is not there in many sections. In short, I hear sections which could use some work to bring out more detail -- detail I couldn't have guessed at in other renditions. Perhaps the latter is the key to my opinion here.

In short, I look forward to a future recording by Moroney, because I know he has worked at polishing these pieces. As time passes on this judgement, most of which was written in 1996, I start to be impatient for such a followup recording.

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Todd M. McComb