XXII Reims International Festival Review - Bach, Well Tempered Clavier, Bk I, June 2011


Remarkable Roger Woodward!

An Flawless, Personal and Daring Interpretation!

Interpreting the works of J-S Bach on a modern instrument such as the piano is always a difficult exercise.  So, choosing to play the entire First Well-Tempered Clavier is an eminently audacious decision on the part of Roger Woodward.

The temptation to dedicate this ‘carte blanche’ to the Cantor of Leipzig can, though, appear quite natural.  It has to be recognised that Bach is very inventive in his writing, notably in his Preludes, which range from a simple accompanied melody (beginning of the Prelude in E Minor), traverse the varying speeds of improvised cadenzas (rhythmic improvisations?) (Prelude in B Flat Major) and go as far as the accelerated toccata (Prelude in F sharp Minor).  The Fugues equally assume a host of intentions through the expressiveness of their themes.  Last night, Roger Woodward’s performance succeeded brilliantly.  In one single surge, the pianist successfully interpreted, in an almost full concert hall, the 24 Preludes and Fugues of this work.  His interpretation was faultless, personal and daring: delicate ornamentations, great handling of sound levels in the fugues where the bass notes play a dominant role, differences of timbres and colours according to tonalities, non-legato playing which allowed the mechanics and the implacable technique of the interpreter to be in evidence.  In a word: remarkable!!

Of course, the famous Prelude in C Major opened the concert.  Roger Woodward proposed an interpretation highlighting the song-like nature of the bass notes.  Thematically, they conferred a profound dimension to this piece which, because of its popularity, tends to get distorted.  From this initial Prelude to the last Fugue in B Minor, whose theme seems to explore the limits of tonality (is this not, to some extent, the challenge Bach issued?), the inventiveness of the interpreter could be measured with every piece.

An exercise brilliantly executed by the artist: Bach magnified by 88 keys and 3 pedals!!  For nearly two hours, Roger Woodward succeeded in reminding us in this concert that the genius of Bach is not affected by the passage of time.
Cecilia Bazile.

“fingers and nerves of steel”   Andrew Porter, The New Yorker