The Well-tempered Clavier, Book 1 Steven Devine (harpsichord) Resonus RES10239 (hybrid CD/SACD) 111:19 mins (2 discs)
Harpsichordist Steven Devine enters a fiercely competitive field in tackling one of the most frequently played and recorded warhorses of the keyboard repertoire. Nonetheless, to the endless possibilities of Bach’s preludes and fugues, he brings many insights. Notable is his flawless, but rarely flashy, technique: lines are sharp as cut-glass and finelyweighted, ornaments are spruce and discreet. There are fleeting moments of fiery virtuosity, such as the C minor, G major, and
B flat major Preludes – works whose improvisatory abandon was inspired by the Italian stylus fantasticus. But generally Devine’s approach is rather more sober, informed by a scholastic rigour – as, indeed, are his excellent disc liner notes. Tempos are on the whole measured, and his pensive (but never ponderous) manner suits Bach’s more reflective works: the visionary B minor fugue comes off particularly well.
There are frequent rhetorical touches in the articulation – little pauses and breathing points delineating, and occasionally over punctuating, phrases. Here and there one might have wished for greater balletic grace in the danceinspired works.
Colin Booth’s copy of a single manual harpsichord by the German maker Johann Christof Fleischer – the original dating from 1710 – has a burnished, plangent sound.
Its tuning, based on Kirnberger III rather than equal temperament, highlights the variegated colours of the different keys and is slightly modified to avoid unpleasing dissonances. The well-judged recording is detailed but not oppressive. Kate Bolton-porciatti
- BBC Music Magazine
- 15 May 2019