Heidrun Holtmann’s Fine and Forthright Bach “48”

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Although the press release accompanying this recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier promises a “fresh” interpretation, Heidrun Holtmann’s artistry is actually pretty much run-of-the-mill for the average modern-day, stylistically aware Bach pianist. She employs little pedal, achieving variations in touch and timbre through skillful fingerwork and hand balance alone. Holtmann’s forthright temperament and respect for the text may be short on surface charm and scintillation, but her scrupulous tendencies rarely spill over into the pedantic.

Her carefully differentiated legato and detached articulation in the Book I F-sharp major Prelude and Fugue, for instance, conveys an attractively dry lilt to the music, while the Book I G minor Prelude’s shapely trills unfold with vocally informed flexibility. I wish the Book I C-sharp major Fugue was more playful and less sober here, yet you have to credit Holtmann for following each contrapuntal line through to its final destination.

Her brisk and business-like Book II C major Prelude contrasts to the heftier and grander readings we often hear. In contrast to the terraced textural contouring that Schiff, Hewitt, and Rosalyn Tureck bring to the Book II C-sharp minor Fugue, Holtmann favors a more conversational repartée between the lines. She inflects and embellishes the Book II F minor Prelude with more serious intent than the piece warrants. Following an emphatic and heavy statement of the Book II B-flat minor Fugue’s opening measures, Holtmann slightly speeds up the fugue subject’s 16th notes, and sets the tone for a more fluid interpretation than one might anticipate at the outset.

To be sure, many other piano versions of the “48” offer more distinctive and compelling personal profiles: think of András Schiff’s fanciful embellishments, Angela Hewitt’s studied dynamic calibrations and dance-oriented tempos, Evgeni Koroliov’s insightful finesse, Evelyne Crochet’s bracing incisiveness, Roger Woodward’s ethereal breadth, or the profound expressive nuances that Ewa Poblocka brings to her extraordinary Book I recording. If Holtmann proves less interesting by comparison, her finest moments nevertheless warrant admiration and respect.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Koroliov (Tacet); Poblocka (Book I, Frederick Chopin Institute)

  • Heidrun Holtmann (piano)

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