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Heidrun Holtmann interprets Bach's magnum opus with meticulous care / Fono Forum

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Hans von Bülow termed Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier as the Old Testament of piano playing and these two volumes each containing 24 pairs of preludes and fugues are today still considered one of the great challenges of piano literature. The musical text offers great freedom as it is almost bereft of any dynamic and articulation markings. What is more, since Robert Levin showed in his hänssler recording that it can make sense to play the individual pairs of works on a variety of keyboard instruments (ranging from the harpsichord and fortepiano to the organ), we must ask ourselves even more intensely how the two parts can be performed on the modern grand piano.

Heidrun Holtmann interprets Bach's magnum opus with meticulous care, producing transparency in the contrapuntal voice structure and sensitivity in dynamic shaping, with coherent articulation and no hint of overstatement. In comparison with the eccentricities of Glenn Gould, she tends more in the direction of legato while however intentionally employing portato and staccato in her phrasing structure. Compared with Swjatoslaw Richter's tendency to cotton-wool romanticism interspersed by raging virtuoso interpretations, Holtmann provides a no less virtuoso version which is however less fraught. Her playing sounds far more natural than the style of Evgeni Koroliov, although possesses slightly flatter contours.

This new complete recording displays no symptoms of fatigue, even in Book II. Unfortunately, the booklet does not reveal how many days the award-winning pianist required to record the two volumes. On all accounts, Heidrun Holtmann has achieved a remarkable accomplishment. 

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