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"Reference Recording - This One
Gould (Sony); Schiff (Decca); Fischer (EMI), PERFORMANCE: 10 / SOUND QUALITY: 10
Evgeni Koroliov′s recordings of The Art of Fugue (for Tacet) and the Goldberg Variations (for Hänssler) have placed him in the forefront of today′s Bach pianists. This new recording of Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier confirms his stature in this repertoire beyond a shadow of a doubt. Koroliov plays this music with such poetry, finesse, and real joy that questions of "authenticity" or instrument selection fade into insignificance.
In his title for the work, Bach deliberately avoided naming a specific keyboard instrument, and it′s known that this music could and would certainly have been played on everything from a harpsichord to clavichord, organ, or even early piano. In fact, Bach′s music is a celebration of keyboard virtuosity, and Koroliov′s performance offers a genuine display of the pianist′s art. His playing of the G major fugue, for example, has the brittle clarity of the harpsichord but a witty brilliance that is all his own. On the other hand, the mesmerizing, gradual crescendo and diminuendo he makes of the long C-sharp major fugue offers a textbook lesson in how to use the piano′s dynamic shadings to enhance the clarity and harmonic tension of Bach′s contrapuntal lines. Even the more familiar fugues--the two openers, for example, in C major and minor--sound refreshingly vital and interesting, owing to a combination of irresistible forward momentum and a really intelligent, ear-catching approach to voice leading.
Koroliov′s view of the preludes is no less impressive: he perfectly catches the subdued, elegiac quality of the pieces in G minor and G-sharp minor. His playing has all the gentle intimacy of the clavichord. On the other hand, he′s not afraid to attack the F-sharp minor prelude with real anger and an almost Lisztian bravura, and he can stroke the simple, arpeggio preludes (such as the very first, in C major) with a dreamy sensuality that has us confused as to whether we are listening to Chopin or Bach, and frankly not caring which. In sum, this is a performance worthy to stand beside Gould, Tureck, Schiff, Fischer, or any other competing version that you can name. And it′s better recorded than any of them. The only drawback: really pretentious booklet notes that, as so often with German productions, say nothing intelligent about the music at all, and exist solely to prove that the note writer thinks he′s smarter than the composer. Who is he kidding? Never mind. Bring on Book Two!"
David Hurwitz

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