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BACH: THE WELL TEMPERED CLAVIER (48 PRELUDES AND FUGUES) - HEWITT; MACGREGOR; DEMIDENKO; GAVRILOW (2 DVDs)

BACH: THE WELL TEMPERED CLAVIER (48 PRELUDES AND FUGUES) - HEWITT; MACGREGOR; DEMIDENKO; GAVRILOW (2 DVDs)

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Book 1, Program 1-12: Andrei Gavrilov, New Art Gallery, Walsall
Book 1, Program 13-24: Joanna MacGregor, Paula Guell, Barcelona
Book 2, Program 1-12: Nikolai Demidenko, the Palazzo Labia, Venice
Book 2, Program 13-24: Angela Hewitt, Die Wartburg, Eisenach

This is a fresh, visually and musically fascinating approach to one of music history's key compositions, Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. There is room for many approaches to this music, including keyboard instruments other than the piano and a variety of performing styles, but this is, on the whole, as satisfactory a recorded presentation as the music has had. All four pianists are first-class artists, and preference for one or another is a matter of personal taste. The DVD set preserves the original BBC format, in which each set of prelude and fugue has opening and closing credits and a short spoken introduction, some more valuable than others. Nikolai Demidenko's segment, in the Palazzo Labia, Venice, has interesting views of the city. For Andrei Gavrilov at the New Art Gallery in Walsall, England; Joanna MacGregor in the Palau Guell in Barcelona; and Angel Hewitt at Die Warburg in Eisenach, Germany, the camera rarely wanders outside the room. One curious touch: after Hewitt mentions Bach's children, several semitransparent children wander silently through the room, looking like ghosts.

The 48 masterpieces of The Well-Tempered Clavier look far into the future by promoting tuning adjustments that liberated keyboard music, making possible the greater freedom of the classical and romantic styles that went far beyond baroque practices. --Joe McLellan