, January 2009
The idea of filming and recording The Well-Tempered Clavier with four different pianists in four different venues is a novel one, and it certainly offers a variety of interpretative manners, none more controversial than Andrei Gavrilov’s opening approach, which is both highly individual and willful, yet obviously deeply considered. Altogether stimulating, but a very personal view.
Joanna MacGregor then creates a complete contrast following her Russian colleague. There is both momentum and character in her playing, which is attractively crisp and clean in the major keys. The minor-key Preludes are mellower but never romanticized, while the Fugues are often bolder.
Nikolai Demidenko’s way is even more bold and direct, his pacing often brisk but never seeming pressed too hard, and there is never a hint of the romantic dallying which Gavrilov indulges in. Equally, there is no sense of inflexibility or a lack of imagination in the matter of pianistic colour, and certainly there is a sense of a strong personality at work.
Simplicity is Angela Hewitt’s hallmark, with well-judged tempi and unexaggerated use of light and shade so that rhythms are precise, the contrapuntal interplay always clear. Throughout, the music is allowed to unfold naturally and sometimes quite intimately (the B flat minor Prelude). Altogether satisfying: the composer always comes first here.
The visual presentation is far from plain and the cameras are constantly moving, especially in the angle of approach to the pianist’s hands. The palaces at Barcelona and Venice, where MacGregor and Demidenko play, are fully explored and the glory of the interiors at the Wartburg, Eisenach, are realized during Hewitt’s final group. The recorded sound is excellent. But only the listener/viewer can decide whether such lavish illustration is really an asset or partially distracting.