The Well-Tempered Pienaar

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

In 2003 Prometheus Editions released pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I. He followed up with Book II in 2004, although the recording remained unissued until now. Avie couples this Book II alongside a new Pienaar version of Book I. The remake’s slightly distant engineering contrasts to the earlier Book I’s close-up vibrancy, while Book II’s sonics strike a happy medium between both Book I extremes. Musically speaking, the new Book I markedly differs from its predecessor.

For example, Pienaar no longer transposes certain pieces up or down the octave. His contrived dynamic terracing in the C minor fugue has grown more extreme, while the C minor prelude’s formerly Glenn Gouldian staccatos and solid pulse are now replaced by a more tapered, legato approach. Pienaar’s rapid, dry-point articulation of the E major fugue yields to a more dynamically charged and sweeping conception that foreshadows Beethoven, while the gently lilting F major fugue is a far cry from its hard-driving antecedent. And the new G minor prelude’s elegant, long-lined trills significantly improve upon the heavy-handed first recording.

Some of Book II’s unusually brisk fugue tempos result in occasionally blurred lines or unclear rhythms (Nos. 1, 3, 6, and 12), although the often laborious and pounded-out D major fugue benefits from Pienaar’s Alla breve tempo. Yet he achieves a flexible lyrical flow in the A minor and F minor preludes, while the austerely sublime E major fugue stands out for Pienaar’s pavane-like grace. Although Pienaar’s “48” does not offer the consistency of style and control we hear from such disparate artists as Angela Hewitt, András Schiff, Rosalyn Tureck, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Evgeni Koroliov, or Peter Hill, a strong and engaging personality is at work.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Koroliov (Tacet), Hewitt (Hyperion)

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