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Asked about the differences between this recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier and his 1980s Decca set, András Schiff told an interviewer that he disliked the ‘touches of sentimentality’ he now heard in the earlier version, adding that, with age, ‘you don’t feel the need to impress. You know this is a great piece of music that can speak for itself.’ Indeed, Schiff’s great achievement on this recording is to sound completely at one with the music, to ‘speak’ it without his own voice interposing, as happened occasionally on his Decca set (where, for example, his playing of Book 1’s E flat minor Prelude is a little self-conscious, his Book 2 B flat minor Prelude rather eager to please).

The changes he’s made are not radical, but they count: his playing is so assured, his touch so refined, that the music simply flows and sparkles. His choices – of tempo, dynamics, ornamentation – can hardly be faulted, and his decision not to use the pedal is vindicated by the clarity he brings to the contrapuntal lines. Paul Griffiths’s booklet note says that Bach’s music can be ‘at once marvellous and rational, cheerful and profound, domestic and sublime’; Schiff touches all bases and makes it sound easy, his affection and respect for the music ever palpable. A wonderful release.

GRAHAM LOCK Read the full review on Agora Classica


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