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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Well-Tempered Clavier

Book I (1722) & Book 2 (1738-42)
Evelyne Crochet, piano
Recorded Academy of Arts & Letters, New York City, September 2000 - Released March 2006
Music & Arts 1180 4CDs – 65:45 + 67:03 + 63:49 + 62:59
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Aldwell/Nonesuch, Feinberg/Russian Disc, Fellner/Erato, Fischer/Naxos, Gould/Sony, Gulda/Philips, Richter/RCA, Schepkin/Ongaku, Tureck/DG and BBC

Beauty, elegance and exquisite pianism grace the new set of Bach's complete Well-Tempered Clavier played by Evelyne Crochet. Although relatively obscure, this native of France has been performing in concert and on records since the early 1960's. Crochet's repertoire covers a wide spectrum from Baroque to 20th-Century music, and she has championed the piano music of Faure and Satie; her 1960's set for Vox of the complete Faure piano works remains a landmark of the composer's discography. Crochet currently lives and teaches privately in New York City.

After listening to Crochet's Faure recordings in addition to her Well-Tempered Clavier, I have to say that she was born to play the piano. In her Bach set, the chords are perfectly formed, rhythms are gracious, and she is fantastic at floating a note. Every aspect of the performance is beautiful as Crochet presents a natural progression of each prelude and fugue.

There are a few features that other Bach pianists convey that Crochet chooses not to involve herself in. There isn't any strong Gould-like propulsion, contours are not sharp, the bleak terrains offered by Tureck are rather mild in Crochet's hands, and the majesty and power so prevalent in Richter's performances are only in the moderate level from Crochet. I find the most significant failing to be Crochet's reluctance to vary tempo and pacing within each piece of music; you definitely won't find in her interpretations any use of hesitations or the staggering of musical lines.

Yet, I love her Book II where she uses her unsentimental legato to wonderful effect in Bach's chromatic music. With Crochet, I hear "rays of light" from the chromatic architecture that I've never heard from any other version of Book II. There's no doubt in my mind that her strength is legato playing with a relatively light touch. Also, her terracing of rhythmic lines and supple phrasing take a back seat to no other recording of the work.

Book I is not as successful. Here, Crochet engages in more variety of touch and articulation. In most cases, this would be all to the good. But Crochet is not very effective playing notes in a detached manner. I should report that the reviewer for American Record Guide found Crochet more compelling in Book I for her greater variety of articulation. Again, I have to say that this variety takes Crochet out of her comfort zone.

Is Crochet too limiting? Not really. She can "power-up" when necessary, and she sharpens her contours when the music requires such application. However, the performances take off into transcendent realms when her legato intersects with Bach's dense chromatic structures. As for the sonics, they are on the rich side but with sufficient clarity and definition.

Don's Conclusions: I treasure this set for Crochet's uplifting performance of Book II and consider it one of the best on record; Book I is merely very good. Overall, this 4-CD set is excellent and not far behind the exceptional piano versions listed in the heading.

Whether or not you acquire the Crochet set, you owe it to yourself to become intimate with perhaps the most magnificent body of keyboard music ever composed. What we have here is a virtual compendium of style and architecture known in Bach's time as well as the widest array of emotional content I've heard from any keyboard music. Add in heavenly melodies and emotional depth that speaks from the abyss, and the result is hours of reveling in 96 pieces of music that stay with you for days on end.

Evelyne Crochet is a breathtaking guide in Book II, and that's sufficient to warrant the price of admission. Further, readers who love their Bach played in legato fashion should consider Crochet a mandatory item for their Bach library.

Copyright © 2006, Don Satz