Johann Sebastian Bach: The Well-Tempered Klavier, Book I, BWV 846-869
David Korevaar (piano)
Recorded at SUNY Purchase, New York (01/28 & 29, 1998 – 153’53 (Digitally remastered)
MSR Classics 1003 – Booklet in English
David Korevaar has an impressive background. Now on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder, and a frequent performer on the concert circuit, his recording of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach is a welcome addition to the interpretation of some of the most important and beautiful music ever written.
This seminal work has been often performed, some artists preferring the harpsichord to the modern piano. The piano, of course, sings and so do Bach’s melodies. Korevaar does not pinpoint Bach’s points or inappropriately highlight inner voices. The music unfolds with grace and often charm. Nuances and details are brought out naturally in long lines.
On the piano, Korevaar rarely chooses to find the musical continuity by pedaling. But when he does, the result is a hazy Prelude in C. Preferable and more beautiful are the preludes in which Korevaar leaves the legatos to his highly skilled fingering. In these pieces the rhythmic character comes through with a joyful punch.
Korevaar’s clarity, his pleasing and sometimes surprising selection of tempi and tone make this recording particularly appealing. The Bb prelude flew by, a bit too fast, perhaps. If drive becomes driven it is not satisfying. Yet it is fascinating to hear him reveal the contrapuntal tangles of some fugues. In the A minor, the four voices twisting are unusually clear and satisfying.
Rubatos are used liberally. This interpretive device is controversial in Bach. Dynamic variation and picking up the melody in the bass does not offend if the pulse is even. Bach composes music so beautiful that all his lessons are worth displaying and allowing a listener to enjoy.
For the most part, Korevaar makes choices that are neither too strict nor too extreme. Bach notated tempo differently than we do. He wrote, for example, only nine tempo words in the entire Well-Tempered Clavier, where we would write them on every piece. Controversy continues over the tempo implications of these words and of Bach's time signatures. There will probably never be a last word. In Korevaar’s hands, the Prelude in A Flat Major spreads it wings wide and is filled with joy. Its fugue is quiet, uplifting and still driven. The G sharp minor moves gently and is particularly expressive.
The music breathes in the slow parts, while maintaining a forward momentum. Korevaar’s performance is compelling and warm; his contrasts bring forward the emotional content. The intensity of his rendition is achieved, not by playing loud or by speeding up, but often by going quiet so that you can hear the master at work. The performance is intimate and satisfying.