Listening Site: http://www.allmusic.com/album/bach-das-wohltemperierte-clavier-mw0002407591
2013 Grammy Nomination for Best Classical Instrumental Solo.
What do I know here? Well, next to nothing. Thank god for other reviews, who give some background to the matter.
Andreas Schiff recorded his first set of Bach music in the mid-1980's, but this second recording was undertaken with the advances we've had in recording. There are two books of preludes and fugues here, without the use of piano pedals, and we're going to hear pristine control here in his playing. Actually, this could wind up being downright fascinating.
The track listing on this is a bit confusing, so forgive me if I make some mistakes along the way in identification. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge C-Dur. Praeludium" sounds like something out of my old piano warm ups, with fingers lightly playing pieces of scales up and up throughout the octaves. "Book 1. Praeludium ind Fuge C-Dur. Fuge" takes it to another place, with more to the layer, and a clear difference between what the hands are doing. The left is keeping a steady set of notes which the right is playing this brilliant counter melody along against.
"Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge C-Moll. Praeludium" takes it all much faster. It's almost hard to keep up, and my finders want to fly along this keyboard just as quickly as his are flying along those keys. The rhythm is very precise through, with every note being hit absolutely separately. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge C-Moll. Fuge" in a similar way, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that they seem to fit together. The two have very clear difference in their melodies, providing this writer with a confusing but delightful set of pieces as we continue to move on.
I think I'm only getting to hear clips of these, though the times on the sides could either mean the timing of the clips or the duration of the pieces themselves. Most piano pieces unto their own devices have never been very long. And in the time I wrote those two sentences, the cute and quick bit of "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Dur. Praeludium" has gone by. Now we're heading into "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Dur. Fuge" and I'm becoming increasingly aware that I don't need to keep typing about the first 3-4 words in each of these song titles. But, we've started a trend, and on it shall go! This one is playful as well, but definitely has a slightly more classical tone to the playing. The notes are just slightly more connected, though you could still pick each moment out individually.
"Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Moll. Praeludium" takes things much more surprisingly slow. I love a slow sweet piano, especially one that can play ever-so-slightly here and there, giving that bit of playfulness that a song can use as a difference-maker. yes, I'm aware that this is all Bach originally, but let me be impressed on the whole. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Moll. Fuge" goes even farther in making it a darker tone, utilizing more of those black keys in a minor kind of way that was unexpected, given the rest of the collection so far.
If you're keeping track, we're up to the quick-moving track nine, "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge D-Dur. Praeludium." Things move fast and precisely. Speaking of which, while I know these are all old composed songs, I should really be commenting more on the person and the stylings of how they're undertaken. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge D-Dur. Fuge" is just as fast, and the first that I hear something similar linking it back to the preceding track. It's played with this interesting amount of feeling, almost as if you can feel the player letting his hands come down just and only as needed.
"Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge D-Moll. Praeludium" is so sweetly approached. The upper notes are so gently playing, and the lower are just barely there, then they seem to gradually switch. My ears may be playing tricks on me, but the control of dynamics on that ones what gets me most. As for "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge D-Moll. Fuge," I am struck by the solemn tone that he can manage to get across. Mostly, this is out of how different the tone can manage to be from one song to another.
If I were smarter about this, and had a bit more time, I'd love to compare the various track by their final title words. There has to be a similarity found there. hummingbird sings on those keys in "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Es-Dur. Praeludium." Moving into "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Es-Dur.Fuge," as lively as the playing is, one question for y'all, because this is a blog and can say what I want - did you ever thing the music of Bach would evoke someone asking you to "turn it down"? Because my roommate's mother just walked in asking me to. Odd, right? Good, glad to know I'm not alone here amongst the crazy.
Anywhos, moving forward. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Es-Dis-Moll. Praeludium" seems to be battling for that control we heard before. Things are falling so slightly, and just seem out of reach. This one doesn't seem to read as well. "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Es-Dis-Moll. Fuge" seems to be the picking up of all that debris. And also, maybe it's been watching "Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D." too much and am associating.
"Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge E-Dur. Praeludium" brings me back down to earth with a very chamber-like feel. The precise is back and the trailing along the keys well done. It seems to go into "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge E-Dur. Fuge" without a hitch, just ramping up the speed a slight bit.
In a more dramatic flare, we get "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge E-Moll. Praeludium," and I say that because of, again, the tone. It seems like this holds more to it in the happenings that may have inspired it. I may be making things up, but isn't that the fun of this situation? It doesn't seem to slow down either as we ramp into "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge E-Moll. Fuge," which is something I have never been able to play in my life, I'm sure. It's just so fast, and the notes are note all in one spot, creating and even more impressive challenge amongst it all.
"Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge F-Dur. Praeludium" seems to not want to quit either. This is for sure the climax of the book, as my heart beat is racing to catch up. It doesn't end there, as "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge F-Dur. Fuge" keeps it up. We're edging to the end of this book.
It almost seems like there's work towards a resolution with "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge F-Moll. Praeludium." The fingers are a little shaky, but they seem to be finding more solid ground as it goes on. Then finally, in "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge F-Moll. Fuge," things are calmer, more serene. Something's not entirely settled, as though there will be a sequel (or a second disc) but there's just a better sense of calm.
We pick things up in the Spring, it seems, still in Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge "Fis-Dur. Praeludium" (I got tired of continually correcting my computer and typing that over and over). Things are light and airy. "Fis-Dur. Fuge" is still on the positive side of things, but with more of a dance to it, as the fingers are back to hitting the keys just so here and there.
"Fis-Moll. Praeludium" moves faster. Now we're back into those obnoxiously impressive finger movements from before, just wondering how someone manages to keep it that crisp and clear. Then "Fis-Moll. Fuge" slows it back down, like we're more in love and taking it slowly and sweetly. There's a darkness there, don't get me wrong, since the best love stories have it.
But never to let us slip into too much quiet comfort, we move into the fast paced chase of "G-Dur. Praeludium." Traipsing up and down and round and round just never seems to get old somehow. Even as we get more of a calculated dance with "G-Dur. Fuge" and things ramp up a bit, there's a theme going. And yes, I am seeing the pattern amongst the song titles.
"G-Moll. Praeludium" is most definitely darker. It was always a fascinating thing for me to let the lower notes take more of the power, though here it's done so quietly. "G-Moll. Fuge" almost seems to have each hand working together for a chance. Usually they've been counter-acting each other, but now they're moving together so nicely.
We're up and moving about again with the quick and lively "As-Dur. Praeludium" which almost sounds like two pianos playing. The fun gets slowed down just slightly (and I do mean just - the tempo is barely calmer) with "As-Dur. Fuge." I know, I'm running out of things to say here, but you try writing about a several disc set of music with no full tracks and everything just being done on piano!
"Gis-Moll. Praeludium" is a bit more calming, though that lower register keeps up some sort of beat. I think I may be in need of something slow sometime soon. We're not going to get it though. Not with the likes of "Gis-Moll. Fuge" playing. The pin points are still prickling away as the fingers continue moving across the keys like it's nothing.
What's nice though, I have to admit, is that nothing sounds exactly the same. We're up to track 13 on the second disc, and there have been clear and definite differences between songs. "A-Dur. Praeludium" takes on a more upper range, and is downright familiar with those higher notes. "A-Dur. Fuge" brings it back down just slightly, but the flittering bird-like sweetness is brought down and down just as it goes.
"A-Moll. Praludium" is throwing me for a total loop. I can't even type fast enough to keep up with it! It's intense and fun in a lower way that I wasn't expecting, and boy oh boy is it faster. It's follower, "A-Moll. Fuge" continues to take it lower, with those lowest notes almost even sounding like mistakes. I realize that there's no way, but it sure does come across as such.
We're working our way through, folks. "B-Dur. Praeludium" seems to feel my anticipation of the end, and desire to get there. Not that this isn't lovely, but I can't comment on writing really (Bach, way to go, there you go). Commenting on playing alone leaves with with saying things like "B-Dur. Fuge" is very nicely done, of course, but that comes as no surprise, right? How much can I say this guy is a great piano player?
"B-Moll. Praeludium" is helping me re-focus a little. We're looking for excellent pieces amongst excellent music. This takes it slow, almost to the exercise feel I was mentioning in the very first track on the very first disc. "B-Moll. Fuge" keeps that going, just hitting the notes so precisely that you feel like you're hearing a student nervously trying to get every note right for their teacher.
I love to hear call and answers in interesting ways, and this is where a track like "H-Dur. Praeludium" doesn't disappoint. One bit answers another and another and another. It's just delightful. The follow up of "H-Dur. Fuge" is so quiet, and while I had to turn down my volume to accommodate the time, I also may have just settled into a nice grove of relaxing with these pieces.
"H-Moll. Praeludium" is very calculated. You hear how the player almost seems to pluck at the keys, which is funny when you think about the fact that a piano is pulled by strings. Heh, anyone? Okay, well, we end this disc with "H-Moll. Fuge," which feels to me like more of a cliff hanger than a final song. Before, if felt like the end of a story, but here I feel like we're just hitting what could be the best part.
Funny thing about that statement is that, in starting Disc 3, we're starting a whole other Book! Book 2. Praeludium und Fuge begins with "C-Dur. Praeludium" and it sounds as if we're going to get more depth in this book somehow. "C-Dur. Fuge" maybe have me speaking too soon. Things are back to light and airy, but I can wish, somehow, this is only to keep something else covered up. Flash over substance hiding a secret.
"C-Moll. Praeludium" kills my desire to try to make this into a story, if for nothing else than the length of time it would take me at the moment. However, there is a bit of a darker tone that makes me smile. "C-Moll. Fuge" does seem to say that there is something sinister underneath. Eh, sorry, can't stop myself. I love seeing the story behind the music.
At this point, so far in, I do wonder if there is meant to be a connection amongst all of these. I mean, musically, "Cis-Dur. Praeludium" sounds nothing like any of the previous numbers. Hell, "Cis-Dur. Fuge" barely sounds connected to the last one. And some don't even sound period-appropriate, but perhaps that's really a nod to the composer himself.
"Cis-Moll. Praeludium" is a fake ball under pretenses unknown to the other attendees. Sounds like something right out of "Vampire Diaries" history. Hehe. I mean, really, if you've gotten this far, I've got to make you laugh a little. Sort of the way that the rhythms in "Cis-Moll. Fuge" make me laugh. Eh? Eh? See what I did there?
"D-Dur. Praeludium" has got to be hard to play. I hear the falling up and down the keys, which eases a little off of the finger stretching, but to keep such precision throughout is a whole under ball of impressive. Its follower, "D-Dur. Fuge" seems to give the hands a bit of relief, as it moves slowly and steadily instead.
I always wanted to dance ballet. It's agile and beautiful, but it's so hard. It hurts. Can you imagine dancing to "D-Moll. Praeludium?" The footwork alone seems unfathomable. "D-Moll. Fuge" seems to be a more reasonable piece, though the hints of ups and downs don't calm my nerves too much. Luckily, I learned how to write a lot faster than ballet grasped my heart.
"Es-Dur. Praeludium" is quiet, comparatively. It's just gentler on the heart somehow. Understated perhaps? I don't know that I have the right word here. "Es-Dur. Fuge" makes up for that though, being just as loud as that was soft. In the back and forth of these track titles, you start to wonder if some are intentionally opposite in just slight, minute ways.
Ah but then you start to think, maybe the real point here is just to move those fingers quickly. "Dis-Moll. Praeludium" continues the trend of downright fast, where I'm almost hurrying my fingers along typing, just to keep up. Okay, well, thanks for listening, "Dis-Moll. Fuge," any giving me a little slower of a pace to keep up with.
"E-Dur. Praeludium" picks it back up a bit though. I guess for this time around, we'll go back to admiring the precision. It is a really impressive thing. Andras maintains it both in the quick songs and the slower paced and falling tracks like "E-Dur. Fuge." It all remains impressive, especially when I'm 100% sure I could not sit and play these items myself.
Maybe comparing to myself isn't fair, since I haven't been classically trained in a few years, but when you hear something like "E-Moll. Praeludium," you do wonder if there's any chance you could ever master that. Maybe if I worked real hard on just one song like the more-playful "E-Moll. Fuge?" Maybe I could get something as great sounding?
"F-Dur. Praeludium" holds more hope in it. The notes up top even seem to sing of little bright gleams of happiness just beyond our reach. "F-Dur. Fuge" playfully skips along, as though we're children going to play. Really it's probably the happiest little diddy in three discs so far!
Of course that can't last long. We're on a thinking man's journey here, and "F-Moll. Praeludium" doesn't let us forget it. Or, me at least. I like to be inclusive of all y'all as well. And just like that, we're at the abrasive, loud, spectacular end of disc three with "F-Moll. Fuge."
Onto Disc Four! Same book, so you get the beginnings of these track titles already. "Fis-Dur. Praeludium" begins things much the same as before, with impressive piano skills, though this time with little trills added in along the way. "Fis-Dur. Fuge" keeps it going up and down and up and down and in a lovely manner.
"Fis-Moll. Praeludium" comes back down, both in pace and tone. And in an interesting turn, "Fis-Moll. Fuge" does very much the same. I guess we're delving into our darkest senses before the ending?
Even the faster songs seem to have some underlying darkness to them. "G-Dur. Praeludium" has those lower-register notes that sing of a more dire situation underneath a fast-moving world. Its counterpart, "G-Dur. Fuge" doesn't seem to give much leeway either, though try as it might above the rest with those higher notes.
"G-Moll. Praeludium" strips away the cute little top notes, in favor of a tripping-along lower-register grouping of music. It's a touch disjointed and spooky. It is followed by a quicker version, and more clean, in "G-Moll. Fuge."
If my paragraphs are getting shorter, I mean, you can understand, right? The songs are brilliant, and especially brilliantly performed! But even "As-Dur. Praeludium" starts to sound so much like everything else that you run out of things to say. The comments become the same. "As-Dur. Fuge" plays along merrily and seems like we're closing in on some happy ending, until we're not.
"Gis-Moll. Praeludium" sounds like a pressing on to the end type song here. It's quick, it's fluttering, and it's a tad confusing. It's also followed by "Gis-Moll. Fuge," which is much slower and much more subdued. Color me surprised, was definitely not expecting that change at all.
Up next is "A-Dur. Praeludium." This is up there in the sweeter songs, almost coming across as a love song, though don't think romantic. Airy, flirty, that sort of number. "A-Dur. Fuge" picks up the pace again into something just short of a frenzy. You know what, no, it falls pretty short of that, because we've heard other songs that are far more chaotic.
"A-Moll. Praeludium" seems like an exercise where we just keep falling and falling down the keys on the piano. It's a practice in falling down the rabbit hole. "A-Moll. Fuge" works its way back up though. Or, maybe through the gardens where we meet the Cherisher Cat. I can't be 100% sure at this point. Either way, a flit of a piece.
I am ready to wind this journey down, how about y'all? "B-Dur. Praeludium" certainly feels like it. It just feels like something about the playing is on the bring of being done, and I don't blame him one little bit. Even when I was all ready for "B-Dur. Fuge" to pick up and prove me wrong, it too feels like there's less effort put in. That's not to say that the playing doesn't remain perfect, but it just feels more tired.
"B-Moll. Praeludlium" seems to be a last-ditch effort to prove otherwise though. It's up there and seems to be reaching out, asking us for one more dance, one more enjoyment of the merriment, before we call it quits. For the first time, I hear the seamless transition into the next, "B-Moll. Fuge," which remarkably sounds the same. This if the first song pairing I think I've been able to completely say that about! Trippy.
Oh but wait folks, there's more! "H-Dur. Praeludium" is going to keep going strong, with those repetitious trills that bring you in and in and in some more. Please, for the love of goodness let someone out there know what I mean by that. "H-Dur. Fuge" doesn't really do the same, as it subdues itself back down to the bottom of the piano, only rising for air on the higher notes every so often to seemingly make a point. Everything seems to stay more closely knit on this one.
And we're on the last set, folks! "H-Moll. Praeludium" is giving you one last taste of a skip around the piano and man is it an impressing beginning to the end. That end, by the way, is mass insanity in "H-Moll. Fuge." Either Andras is really over this and is rushing through to be done, or at the very least he's throwing all he has left in our faces as he finishes up in a flurry!
What I Would Add to My Playlist if this Album were Available on Spotify:
- "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge C-Moll. Praeludium"
- "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Moll. Praeludium"
- "Book 1. Praeludium und Fuge H-Dur. Praeludium"
- "Book 2. Praeludium und Fuge Cis-Moll. Fuge"
I bet anyone out there would agree with me that a four-disc piano set is rather difficult to get through. Perhaps as background music, yeah, it's really wonderful and interesting, and may even catch your attention away from what your doing. But writing about over 80 tracks is difficult. All that said, there are not enough great things to say about this artist's approach to these books. The precision is unparalleled, and the tone is amazing. Kudos!