BACH, Johann Sebastian, The Well-Tempered Clavier;  Celestial Harmonies

…..merely a dry run when compared to his most recent Bach enterprise. Now Woodward has presented us with both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. They appear in meticulously prepared editions with the limited deluxe version in black-box sets with facsimiles of the original autographs.
But above all it is the level of musicianship that is responsible for this first class production . Woodward is an exceptionally reflective artist.  In his two extensive companion essays he offers an overview of the checkered performance history and varied ways in which [Bach’s] collections have been received.
Woodward uses the ‘construct’ of legato cantabile to explain the composer’s musical ideal (and of his contemporaries) on the harpsichord.  What this term refers to is a performance that resembles the human singing voice.  The refined performance techniques thus used allow us to forget the restrictions of instruments with limited resonance.
From that perspective Woodward examines the performance possibilities of the other keyboard instruments from the time of Bach (clavicord, spinet, organ and early fortepiano). Since the end of the eighteenth century the hammerklavier began to take a central place amongst them. While its ever more voluminous sound makes it easier to maintain the legato playing illusion, offering thereby totally new dynamic and coloristic possibilities, limited touch control does tends to obliterate the contours of the music.
Woodward himself plays the ultimate of modern grand piano construction, the model D Steinway. With this opulent medium at his fingertips he manages to produce a synthesis of different sound effects and interpretative models without being caught in one extreme or another. It is not Woodward’s mission to imitate the dry and transparent sound of a harpsichord, as attempted by Glenn Gould.
Neither does he share Daniel Barenboim’s inclination to interpret these pieces in the spirit of Leopold Stokowski, as the piano version of the romantic orchestral repertoire. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that for Woodward Bach’s clavier music foretells not only the spirit of the Romantic and the Impressionist periods, but also of modern constructivism.
Woodward’s interpretation incorporates the organic structure of counterpoint, the exploitation of bold well- tempered harmonics, and a contemplative concentration on sound along with flashing virtuosity, and a clarity of musical lines and orchestral effects.
Last but not least, the above mentioned portrayal of ‘cantability’ helps to pull it all together.  The fact that Woodward further opens up the full sound of his instrument, orchestrating it further with his pedal gives his performance a free flowing, breathing, if not, swinging character. Right at the opening of the first book, the C-major Praeludium flows as if emanating from a larger wave movement.
Besides adding expressive powers, changes in tempo help to clarify the structure of the music. At other points the deep sound of the bass strings, wrenches the guts before the listener becomes completely intoxicated by the rest of the music.  Ornamentations that quickly lose their clarity on the piano always sound clear and effortless, providing not mere ornamentation but also color. Is this due to Woodward’s flawless technique or the instrument’s acoustic properties? Both contribute to the successful interplay of those forces which together have the makings of a new standard.
Die Aufnahme erscheint gleichzeitig in verschiedenen Versionen:
I & II m. Booklet + Taschenpartitur in Box: Nr. 19922-5
I m. Booklet + TP in Box: 14281-5
II m. Booklet + TP in Box: 19921-5
I & II m. Booklet 19122-2
I m. Booklet: 14281-2
II m. Booklet: 19121-2
Georg Henkel
(Translated by Adriana Schuler)

The Gramophone, February 2010 – Editor’s Choice
Perahia’s Partitas . Woodward’s wonderful Bach . Horowitz celebrated….
Imaginative performances by Woodward that rank alongside the very best.

Shiva meets Bach
...These recordings resulted in four-and-a-half stellar hours ……
CD Review by Graham Rickson – 24 September 2011

Bach: The Well Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2
Roger Woodward - piano (Celestial Harmonies)
Possibly the most expansive Well-Tempered Clavier around – this one just tips over onto five discs, but there’s never any suggestion of sluggishness. Roger Woodward has been mentioned in these pages before – Australian born, he came to prominence in the 1970s as an interpreter of the thorniest modern repertoire. But he’s never neglected the core piano repertoire, releasing revelatory recordings of Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven during the past decade alongside excursions into more offbeat territory. He also writes eloquent, articulate sleeve notes. We’re not short of good, modern recordings of this work – Angela Hewitt’s two versions are standard recommendations, but this one is even better. It’s partly a matter of tempi – when Woodward does take slightly more time over the busier preludes, the clarity is sensational – I’ve never been more aware of what’s going in Bach’s inner part writing. And the timbre of his modern Steinway is captured with incredible fidelity and warmth – a sound so refulgent that it’s like reclining in a warm bath.
You’ll find yourself listening to this in huge chunks, ignoring more pressing domestic duties. The austerity of many of Bach’s fugue subjects still surprises – the eerie single line kicking off Book 1’s F minor fugue sounds extraordinary here, before the entry of the other voices gives us the harmonic stability we’ve been craving. Book 2 can be a more forbidding experience - the mood feels slightly more academic and it’s not always as melodically rich, but Woodward manages to make things intimate and approachable.  This is music making which makes life worth living – stick on Woodward’s account of the little C# prelude in Book 2 and it’s balm to a troubled soul. I’ve not mentioned the luxury packaging – each book presented in a matt black box, complete with a perfectly legible facsimile of Bach’s manuscript to follow while you’re listening. Both volumes are objects which you’ll want to bequeath in your will. Woodward will be playing Book 1 in Taunton on October 2nd. Go and hear him if you’re within driving distance




“the greatest living performer of contemporary music”  The Listener, NZ