Bach: The mono tapes

Floral design

[Friedrich] Gulda clavichord
Berlin Classics 0301063BC

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is an extraordinary CD, re-mastered from some old and very decayed mono tapes, of the classical/jazz pianist Friderich Gulda playing Bach on two highly amplified clavichords in the late 1970s. You can see a number of Gulda’s clavichord performances on Youtube, where the sound is more ‘normal’. But in the performances of a number of Preludes and Fugues for Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Zweiter Teil numbers 5, 23 and 17 on a Widmayer clavichord and numbers 10, 20 and 24 on a Neupert an extraordinary sound world is conjured up. Sometime – as in the opening Prelude and Fugue in D – the sound is so brittle and the playing so fast that the performance sounds just like a digital soundtrack – which of course it is! In other pieces, like the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903) Gulda brings out the rhapsodic nature of the music, and his digital fluency seems less distracting.

As it is, his thumping performances – he apparently used to practise on a clavichord in his hotel rooms before concerts to improve his technique – and his incessant use of the clavichord’s vibrato on longer notes (even in fugue subjects) and cadences give me little pleasure. Although I can see that these tapes reveal interesting material about one performer’s preparation of Bach, there is little awareness of any historically informed techniques in the performances or choice of instruments.

David Stancliffe

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