Bach clavierbk1 BIS2621

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1
Masato Suzuki (harpsichord)
rec. 2021, Toppan Hall, Tokyo
BIS BIS-2621 SACD [2 discs: 110]

The performer in this newly released recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 is Masato Suzuki. He’s the son of Masaaki Suzuki, founder of the Bach Collegium Japan, and he performs on a two-manual harpsichord built by Willem Kroesbergen of Utrecht in 1987, which is a copy of a 17th-century Flemish instrument by J. Couchet.

Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier consists of two books, each consisting of preludes and fugues in all 24 keys, major and minor. Many rightly consider it to be the summit of keyboard music, the most-influential undertaking for solo keyboard of the Baroque era. I have to say, though, that of the two books I have a preference for the second. It’s technically more challenging, is more adventurous in its harmonic range, has greater emotional range and combines more fantasy and daring.

These works have been frequently recorded, and Suzuki has entered a very crowded playing field, yet he makes these pieces his own and stamps his own personality on them. There’s plenty of energy injected into the C minor prelude, and the brisk tempo is very effective, as is the final flourish. The C sharp minor fugue is played with a stark simplicity, a total contrast to its exuberant prelude, and the doleful opening of the E minor prelude differs strikingly with its fleet-footed ending. Suzuki’s pacing of the F minor fugue works perfectly, it’s both carefully considered and dignified. The G major prelude like much in this recording is taken rather on the fast side, but it works very well indeed. Nothing throughout this cycle sounds rushed. The B minor prelude is wonderfully expressive, and its fugue, which ends the set, is one of heart-rending beauty.

This is a beautifully sounding SACD recording where the balance between detail and atmosphere has been captured to perfection. Toppan Hall, Tokyo offers an ideal acoustic and ambience with plenty of fine resonance. The accompanying liner in English, German and French gives plenty of interesting and useful background to the music.

Suzuki has got off to a wonderful start with Book 1 and the omens look auspicious for a possible Book II; I hope we don’t have to wait too long.

Stephen Greenbank

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