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Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Bk 1 / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 11/06/2007 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9246   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Andrew Rangell
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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BACH The Well-tempered Clavier, Book I Andrew Rangell (pn) BRIDGE 9246 (2 CDs: 105:30)

Bach’s WTC has had a number of recent outings on disc, the latest of which was Book I performed live by Craig Sheppard. By the time you Read more read this, the review of Sheppard’s account should have appeared in 31:4. Interestingly, most of the newer recordings arriving on the scene—with the exception of Richard Egarr’s brand new release of Book I on harpsichord—are performed on piano, as is the current one by Andrew Rangell.

Readers who may have read my enthusiastic review of the pianist’s CD of miscellaneous Bach keyboard works in 30:1 will not be surprised to learn that Rangell enjoys nothing more than a good game of musical chess playing on point to Bach’s contrapuntal gambits. But nothing could have prepared me for Rangell’s astonishing “back to the future” stratagems in his playing of the WTC.

Allow me to explain. First, it has taken all of us—pianists, critics, and lovers of Bach’s keyboard music—a long time to move beyond the influence of Glenn Gould. So idiosyncratic and in some ways audacious was his Bach that, love him or hate him, he became the paradigm for a generation. Second, most recent recordings I’ve heard of the WTC have been uniformly excellent technically and interpretively, but readings of distinction do not necessarily equal readings that are distinctive. Perhaps there is only so much you can do with these relatively brief preludes and fugues that—unlike the Goldberg Variations , for example—are really separate and independent pieces, not variations on an underlying bass-line progression that unifies the whole into an integrated, cohesive work.

Enter Andrew Rangell. His WTC is not only a reading of distinction; it is about as distinctive as they come. My initial reaction was one of utter shock at the imaginativeness and boldness of Rangell’s playing. But the longer I listened the more aware I became of what he was up to; and this is where the “back to the future” part comes in. If Rangell himself should happen to read this, I hope he will not take offense when I say that this is Glenn Gould reincarnated, minus the accompanying humming.

The one generalization I can make about this whole set is that Rangell sees and plays almost every one of the preludes, as did Gould, not as preludes but as toccatas. The difference, which you will hear immediately in the very first prelude, is the sense of fantasy and fancifulness in the rhythmic interplay. It’s not just about “touch,” which is the usual translation from the Italian toccare (“to touch”), but the capricious flights of virtuosic display, the sudden shifts in dynamics and registration, and the irregular rhythmic juxtapositions. Rangell approaches each of the preludes cum toccatas in this way, with motoric regularity until there is a sudden and unexpected shift in the placement of the stress beat and/or there is a dramatic dynamic surge. The energy level and excitement are breathtaking. Listen at exactly 1:01 of the C?-Major Prelude where the offbeat accents are an exact pre-echo of the humorously ribald episode in the Rondo movement of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto.

As for the fugues, if you like Gould’s crisp, percussive bass staccatos and the way he emphatically points the ear to each imitative entrance, you will love Rangell. At times, I will admit, the going gets a bit hard-edged, as in the A-Minor Fugue, which in sheer volume approaches sensory overload. Rangell’s readings are bound to be somewhat controversial, but I can’t remember when I last heard a new WTC this exciting and adrenalin fueled. You would almost surely have to go back to Gould to hear Bach-playing like this. Rangell sets himself apart from the crowd by being not just distinguished but truly distinctive. Highest recommendation possible.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
"I rarely race to my stereo to insert the latest recording of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (although I enjoy listening to it live), but I invariably rush to rip the packaging off the newest "Goldberg" Variations or "Well-Tempered Clavier." Andrew Rangell's idiosyncratic recording of the first book of "The Well-Tempered Clavier" doesn't disappoint...His free-spirited Bach is distinguished by its powerful drive and intensity and a remarkable articulation that illuminates contrapuntal intricacies with microscopic clarity.
Mr Rangell doesn't hesitate to employ the full dynamic possibilities and heft of a modern Steinway, producing a weighty sound sometimes more Beethovian than Bachian. His playing captures every mood in the psychological spectrum...He also demonstrates vivid contrast of touch, from beautifully singing lines in the opening of the Prelude No. 9 to rapid-fire staccato in the Prelude No. 6. There is plenty of colorful virtuosity along the way..."

-- Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times [02/03/2008]
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Works on This Recording

Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 846-869 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Andrew Rangell (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1722; Cöthen, Germany 

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