Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Well-Tempered Clavier:
Peter Hill (pn)
DELPHIAN 34101 (2 CDs: 158:10)
For those not averse to hearing Bach performed on piano, Peter Hill’s new Delphian recording is well worth investigating. The pianist’s self-authored album note, in which he provides a narrative on each and every one of the 24 preludes and fugues, is a valuable acquisition in itself.
Heretofore, Hill has not been associated with Bach. His focus
has been mainly 20th-century repertoire, with a special emphasis on the music of Messiaen. Thus, it’s a bit of a surprise to see him turn to Bach, and specifically to Book 2 of the
The Well-Tempered Clavier
, which seems a less probable place to start than Book 1. But Hill finds the preludes and fugues in Book 2, which, after all, were written some 16 years later, to be more formally advanced and weightier in musical thought or expression.
In part, it’s that greater complexity of Book 2 that has made it somewhat less accessible, more imponderable, perhaps, and therefore less popular than its companion Book 1. Hill’s approach, accordingly, seems to be one of analytical examination and deconstruction. This is not meant negatively, but rather comparatively to Angela Hewitt and Craig Sheppard, both of whom approach the music with a bit less seriousness and less inhibition. Theirs are readings of rather more flamboyant fun.
This is not to suggest that Hill’s fingers don’t fly just as fast through the D-Minor Prelude or that he doesn’t smile at the posthorn signals in the D-Major Prelude, but overall one has the sense that his effort is the result of painstaking scholarly research. I’m tempted to say that he does everything exactly right, sometimes at the expense of doing the right thing. The fugues, moreso than the preludes, can come across sounding somewhat studied and overly cautious, as in the F?-Minor Fugue where one can count with exactitude the number of curlicues in Bach’s tricky ornaments. At times, one wishes for just a bit more spontaneity, even if it’s at the risk of squiggling one time too many or too few.
Nonetheless, this is a masterly realization of the second volume of Bach’s
, one that, on its own terms, can stand among the best of them, and it has been beautifully recorded on a 2004 Steinway Model D in Cadiff’s University Concert Hall. Hill’s
won’t replace my favorite piano version, which I still think is Angela Hewitt’s, but it needn’t blush beside it.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Peter Hill is the latest to join the parade of pianists – Edwin Fischer, Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Sviatoslav Richter, András Schiff and Rosalyn Tureck, to name just a few – who have recorded JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. In addition to his explorations of the Second Viennese School, Hill is best known for his monumental cycle of the complete piano works of Olivier Messiaen. Indeed, many of the qualities that characterise his Messiaen are present here: note his use of varied pianistic colours – here muted, there radiant, sonorous then shimmering. And, as in his recordings of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, Hill unfolds contrapuntal lines with clarity, displaying an eloquent understanding of the music’s underlying structure.
Hill’s technique is impressive, but he eschews flamboyant showmanship, bringing instead humility, poise and gravitas to these accounts. Tempos are thoughtfully judged and tend to underscore the reflective, meditative qualities that underlie many of Bach’s later works. The recorded sound is somewhat boxy and the microphones pick up the keyboard hammers. At around £14 for two discs, however, it’s hard to complain.
-- Kate Bolton, BBC MusicWeb International Read less
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