JS BACH Das wohltemperirte Clavier Book 1 (Devine)
Steven Devine’s traversal of The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1, with Book 2 to follow, is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. He plays a double-manual harpsichord from 2000 by Colin Booth, based on a single-manual instrument of Fleischer in Hamburg, 1710, and uses Kirnberger III tuning.
Devine’s readings are flowing and logical, with variety brought to the entire set first and foremost by his extraordinarily sensitive articulation. In the more toccata-like preludes, his subtly applied tenuto touch keeps things crisp and moving, without monotony. His acute sense of the singing line clarifies even the most complex textures.
Each pair is imbued with vivid characterisation. The C sharp minor Prelude makes a strong case for the full ornamentation, its plaintive lyricism in striking contrast to the solemn impetus of the five-voice fugue that follows. The D major Prelude evokes an accompanied violin sonata as preparation for the French Overture-style Fugue, which fairly bursts with pomp and grandeur. If an affable A major Prelude precedes a Fugue that strikes as a bit ginger for its 9/8 time signature, things heat up considerably with an intense A minor Prelude and its Fugue of unstoppable determination.
While Devine’s Book 1 may not replace some of my current favourites – including those by Ottavio Dantone (Arts), Christophe Rousset (Aparté, 6/16) and Pierre Hantaï (Mirare, 6/03) – its solid and considered music-making certainly warrants comparison with them. The recorded sound is fully dimensional and true to life.