J.S. Bach: Das wohltemperierte Klavier , Volume 1

Steven Devine harpsichord
111:19 (2 CDs in a card tryptych)
Resonus RES10239

Steven Devine plays a double-manual harpsichord by Colin Booth from 2000 after an 18th-century Johann Christoff Fleischer original (Hamburg 1710) that he tunes in a version of Kirkberger III, ‘gently modified so as to retain the key colours that make the harpsichord sing so much better, but eliminating any extreme dissonances’.

The distinctive tuning that results can be heard in the opening eight tracks, where the C# major and minor after the C keys sounds delightfully zingy, especially in the great C# minor fugue. Devine spends much of his liner note (where all the quotations from German are idiomatically translated into English) discussing what Wohltemperierte means. The mellow tone of Colin Booth’s harpsichord and Steven Devine’s elegant, unfussy playing make these CDs a delight to listen to. His technique is faultless, his ornaments elegant and the rhythmic playing has give without being mannered. Imitative passages are intelligently articulated and registration is so well chosen that it never obtrudes – it just feels right and how you’d love to be able to play it yourself.

A bonus is the lovely warm acoustic – St Mary’s church, Birdsall in North Yorkshire – and the sensitive recording. The harpsichord sounds caressed rather than hammered and its treble is crystal clear while the bass speaks roundly without being plummy.  This is an altogether delightful pair of CDs, and makes me impatient for the second part. There are other recordings about, including Colin Booth’s own, but Devine’s has a particular seemingly effortless grace, and it’s the one of all I’ve heard in the past ten years that I am happiest to live with.

David Stancliffe