J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Bob van Asperen
Instrumentation:Harpsichord
Individual Works:48 preludes and fugues
BWV 846 to BWV 893
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Virgin
Catalog Number:7243 5 61711
Year Released/Recorded:originally: 1989/1990
this release: 1999
Total Playing Time:cd1: 61:22
cd2: 59:49
cd3: 69:12
cd4: 73:41
Comments:Jan Hanford said:

I like Bob van Asperen's recordings, his Soler sonatas are excellent. However, I was disappointed by this recording of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier. It is far from bad. But he makes some rhythmic choices that did not work for me. One nice aspect is he plays rather slowly sometimes, which is enjoyable. But some of his fast tempos and ornamentation feel awkward. I found the sound of the harpsichord to be rather harsh. It was ok for the slow tempos, but the fast tempos clanged too much and I did not enjoy it. Also, he does not vary the stops on the harpsichord either, which I find boring. Other performers, i.e. Leonhardt, do and the result is much more interesting. This is not a bad performance, it's just not one I prefer.

Peter Holmes said:

I agree with Jan's comments on the whole. The problem is that we've been spoilt (for a number of years now) by the sweet, more bell-like sound of the Mietke harpsichord (and its copies)-the type that Bach himself is likely to have used on a day-to-day basis. The Christian Zell instrument on which van Asperen performs here belongs to a somewhat different type of construction, resulting in a harsher sound. Again, its downfall is particularly the faster sections, less so the slower sections. Overall, for this reason I found this recording particularly fatiguing to the ears. For a reality check I interspersed listening to these four CDs with other random harpischord recordings, such as Robert Woolley's playing of the Partitas on Chandos and Pierre Hantai's Goldberg Variations. All of these I could listen to effortlessly for as long as I wanted - unlike the van Asperen's recording.

The recording itself, however, is excellent - not too close, not too distant. This is a problem that can flaw the best of interpretations and the finest of instruments. This factor may be the real saving grace of this particular recording.

As regards interpretation, the tempi are generally on the fast side, and the coloration is, agreed, lacking in differentiation. The rhythmic drive, on the other hand, is excellent (in all tempi), and makes for a satisfying rendition in many cases (as with Trevor Pinnock's playing for instance). However, the rhythm itself is too mechanical for my taste (prefering the more elastic Leonhardt/Hantai/Moroney, etc., approach). Combined with the hard quality of the instrument, the result is definitely a very unfortunate "retro" feeling - surely the last thing that was Mr. van Asperen's mind. Ultimately, to me the exhilirating rush and super-firm control of his interpretation fails to make up for these deficiencies. Although the interpretation is basically very sound - as one would expect from a former Leonhardt student - these considerations make the whole set less than ideal for me, although still well
worth a serious listen.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Peter Holmes
From the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:05/23/2002