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Well Tempered Clavier Book I BWV 846-869

Rosalyn Tureck (Piano)

Review: WTC Book I - Tureck (1975-1976)


J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1

WTC 1: 24 Preludes & Fugues BWV 846-869

Rosalyn Tureck (Piano)

BBC Legends

Sept, Oct 1975; Apr 1976

2-CD / TT: 131:21

2nd Recording of WTC1 by R. Tureck. Recorded at BBC Concert Hall Studios, London.
Buy this album at:

Tureck WTC question

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 25, 2002):
I have recently received a review copy of a soon to be released recording of Roslyn Tureck playing the WTC book I. It was recorded for the BBC in 75 and 76. Is this a "new" release, or has it been released on disc already? I can't find anything about it, but the notes don't mention a previous release.

BTW, this leads me to think it is soon time for us to start considering this year's best Bach recordings...

John Grant wrote (October 25, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] A quick net search reveals nothing. Surprising that a second recording by Tureck of WTC 1 would remain unreleased for almost 30 years!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 25, 2002):
[To John Grant] Me too. It was recorded for broadcast on the BBC.

In a word, it is brilliant!

Dyfan Lewis wrote (October 26, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] My father recorded most of them off the radio at the time and I have transferred them from cassette to CD. His Aiwa deck had quite a bit of wow and flutter often at the beginning of a cassette. The recording quality will obviously be better now and better than the DGs. The performances are wonderful. I corresponded with Tureck when I found these tapes and she seemed unsure if they still existed.

Regards from a very delighted

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 25, 2002):
[To Dyfan Lewis] Well, you will be even more so when you hear the CD! This said, while the sound is better than the DGs, because it is in stereo, the piano is miked too closely and is a bit clangy at times. But what sublime playing! I am overwhelmed!!!


Review Review: WTC Book I - Tureck (1975-1976)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 26, 2002):
Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is a set of 24 preludes and fugues, in each major and minor key. Widely considered to be the summit of keyboard music, it is an encyclopaedia of forms and styles, and, especially, of contrapuntal composition. Roslyn Tureck, once called the High Priestess of Bach, has certainly marked the twentieth century with her many recordings of Bach’s keyboard music on piano. This recording, made for the BBC in 1975 and 1976, is a welcome addition to her discography.

Roslyn Tureck’s landmark 1953 recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier remains one of the milestones in the discography of Bach recordings, but this set, recorded more than twenty years later, shows the pianist at the summit of her form. Benefiting from an additional two decades of experience with this music, she gives it insights that few pianists would be capable of.

There is a great deal of fluidity in the preludes, and a strong sense of rhythm in many of the fugues, such as the second fugue in C minor. Some pianists tend to be better with the former, and others the latter. In this recording, Tureck seems to give a much stronger place to the fugues, turning them into carefully crafter works of art. One is in the presence of greatness here - listen to the haunting 12th fugue in F minor, how Tureck turns this into a profound statement of grief and pathos. Much slower than her 1953 recording (a full minute longer - 5:49 compared with 4:48), Rosalyn Tureck here plays a mature reading of this fugue, full of the richness of experience.

In general, the tempi here are more rapid - this set clocks in at some twenty minutes shorter than the 1953 set. Yet some of the key fugues are played much more slowly. The great four-part B minor fugue, the final one in this set, is here played in 8:24, more than a minute longer than her early recording, as is its prelude. This closing pair has all the force and depth, in this recording, of the Art of Fugue or other major works. Tureck seems to play this pair as if they are the defining sections of book I - and indeed they sound as such. She plays this final fugue with such heart-rending beauty that the silence that follows after the disc is finished still sounds like Bach.

A note on the recording - this “historic” recording has been cleaned up and remastered, but is not perfect. The piano has a clangy sound in the loudest passages, and sounds like it was miked too closely. But this does not distract much from the music.

This is one of the finest piano recordings of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier available. What a pleasure to discover this, which shows Roslyn Tureck at her finest. I eagerly await book II, which will be released in the spring of 2003.


Feedback to the Review

Peter Bright wrote (October 28, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] This is very welcome news - I look forward to comparing each prelude & fugue from the two periods side by side. While Tureck does have her detractors (Angela Hewitt not least among them), her recordings (always meticulously prepared) can be as penetrating as any, and the landscape of the more 'difficult' fugues is revealed in a way that is matched only (if at all) by Richter. I hope that the 70s discs prove as much of a milestone as the 50s set.

Donald Satz wrote (October 28, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I wasn't aware than Hewitt has said anything negative about Tureck's Bach. What's the scoop?

Peter Bright wrote (October 28, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] Yes, she has put down Tureck's style - I seem to remember it was during an interview (which I think was published in BBC Music Magazine or Gramophone). However, the words were somewhat put into her mouth as I think the interviewer suggested that she had no time for Tureck's performance style. However, Hewitt agreed, suggesting her playing was boring and lifeless (or words to that effect). Sorry I am being so vague, but the main thing I remember was that she was quite disparaging. I for one don't agree (despite admiring Hewitt's own playing...). In the same interview, she professed to have 'problems' with her fellow Canadian Glen Gould's approach (who doesn't, at least with some of his interpretations?), while being fascinated by Gould himself.


Hewitt on Gould and Tureck

Craig Scheickert wrote (October 28, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I think you're referring to the interview with Hilary Finch in the September 2001 issue of Gramophone. Here are the relevant passages and a bit more besides:

'She does not follow Glenn Gould...', Gramophone's review [of her first Bach disk, a DG recording issued in 1986 following her victory at the 1985 Bach International Piano Competition] continued. Maybe not, but his presence was, of course, inescapable. 'I used to sit there as a child, watching him play with his hands up by his nose, and totally unable to understand a word he was saying! But he was there all right! One of my first LPs was his recording of the two and three-part Inventions. My brother and I used to marvel at the way he'd play the A minor two-part so fast you couldn't hear a thing that was going on, and then the F major so ridiculously slowly! But the clarity of his playing always impressed me. I always preferred his earlier performance of the Goldberg Variations—it has a sense of fearlessness which is so important to me. On the whole, though, it was a case of "well, that 's what Gould does: now let's do it the way *we* think it should be." I can say that because I'm Canadian!

'We'd listen to Rosalyn Tureck, too, of course. That was good for structure--getting to know where the music was going. But she really wasn't vivacious enough for me. I loved the Bach playing of Jörg Demus--that was so human.And aside from the huge influence of Jean-Paul Sevilla, my father was my chief mentor. I learned everything about articulation and phrasing from listening to him playing the organ. Fingering, substitution--the art of changing fingers silently on a key—I do that all the time, because I use the pedal so sparingly. And that's really an organist's trick.

'We also listened to harpsichordists like Ralph Kirkpatrick--and I still do.' I reassure Hewitt that we're not going to trawl through the time-worn questions of keyboards, but does she feel it's vital to know the physical workings of the harpsichord and clavichord from deep inside before recreating Bach on the modern piano? 'To a certain extent, yes. You need a firmness and evenness of touch--which Bach wrote about in his Preface to the Inventions--which comes directly from playing the harpsichord. I say this to so many students in masterclasses who are playing Bach with flimsy fingers. There's no way. Accuracy of placing, too: you only have to touch touch a note on the harpsichord and it can go off. Economy of movement--that's really what I'm talking about. In a fugue, there's absolutely no time for extraneous movement. But, you know, I really never think about the fact that I'm playing Bach on a piano. I'm thinking more of the human voice, of the violin, of an orchestra.'

[...] 'It's very important to me which piano I choose for Bach. I need great clarity, very rapid, very reliable action. And, above all, a wide range of colour, especially in the softer sounds. It's said that the clavichord was Bach's favourite keyboard instrument because of its possibilities for shading and for nuances of colour. I always remember that.'


Tangentially, Peter, I've been meaning to thank you for the recco of Hewitt's recent Toccatas disk. The works emerge with astounding clarity and sound better than they probably are. One is conscious only of the music, not the performer: a wonderful example of the art that hides art.

John Grant wrote (October 29, 2002):
[Craig Scheickert] Thank you, Craig, for the citation. Very illuminating, indeed! Not exactly a put down, but still.... I refer to the following....

'We'd listen to Rosalyn Tureck, too, of course. That was good for structure--getting to know where the music was going. But she really wasn't vivacious enough for me. I loved the Bach playing of Jörg Demus--that was so human. And aside from the huge influence of Jean-Paul."

I studied at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto at about the same time Hewitt studied in Ottawa. Tureck "Not vivacious enough"? A total misreading of what Tureck is about, in my view. "Structure"? Well, yes, obviously, Tureck's interpretations are meticulous in that respect. But Tureck, like Richter, as another post suggests, does something esle as well: viz: probes the essence. This is something Hewitt's own readings of the WTK, both in concert (which I've heard in toto) and in here recording, simply doesn't achieve much less attempt. So I don't understand where she gets off making these generalizations. Still, it's an interview, heresay evidence as it were, and no doubt not accurate.

As soon as anyone can find out where these recordings can be purchased, please tell us all. It's a stunning revelation as far as I'm concerned, that these recordings could have been in some vault somewhere for all these years and are only now being released! What prompted it? There ARE after all, some quite good very recent piano versions: Schepkin, Jando, and Roberts, for example.


Short review of Tureck's BBC recording of the Well Tempered Clavier

Peter Bright wrote (October 31, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] From the UK Independent:

Rosalyn Tureck's vintage BBC recording of the first part of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier leaves Rob Cowan longing to hear the next volume

25 October 2002

Three years ago, a handful of critics, including me, waxed enthusiastic about Rosalyn Tureck's 1950s recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, then newly reissued. Such reverence and spiritual engagement was as rare then as it is now, but little did we know at the time that the BBC had a 1970s studio re-make up its sleeve that is altogether freer, grander, livelier and more subtly shaded than its feted DG predecessor. Reverence is less of the essence here than spontaneous expression, even as early as the First Prelude, with its resonating chimes, or the 11th, which dances into earshot on the lightest of steps. Some pieces are significantly swifter than before, others notably broader, including the ethereal G sharp minor Fugue (No 18), where Tureck's control of line and dynamic is breathtaking. Throughout this First Book of the "48" she achieves a near-perfect balance between structure and personal expression. I'm told on good authority that Book Two should be with us early next year.


Tureck & Denidenko

Peter Bright wrote (November 13, 2002):
I'm currently struggling to find time to listen to any music at all at present (a horrific state of affairs) but have recently picked up two sets and would appreciate opinions. The first is Tureck's recently released BBC performance of the Well Tempered Clavier from the 1970s (already been mentioned on list by Kirk I think). I hope to write a review shortly in the context of her 1950s milestone set. Briefly, I was expecting the two sets to be very different (based on a recent review) - some of the movements certainly are treated quite differently (with the 70s mood being lighter and more playful) but overall the similarities outway the differences. I am once again struck by the lucid and measured performance - no-one else plays Bach quite as beautifully as Tureck. Wonderful.

The other CD is Demidenko's second volume of the Busoni Bach transcriptions (which includes the famous Chaconne from violin partita II). His treatment seems to lack the warmth and involvement that I find in Perahia (not necessarily a bad thing of course) - cold but with plenty of sparkle – I would be interested in other opinions.

Piotr Jaworski (November 13, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Politically - I'll refrain from comments on another Tureck WTK -
currently I'm totally in Feltsman and Tilney performances, looking forward to the second part as recorded by Koroliov. That's - at least as the recent WTK acquisitions - enough. And last but not least - I'll rather not give another chance to Tureck .... Anyway, your comments are another arguments 'against'....

The different thing is Demidenko. I have this recording. I like it a lot. However that was couple of weeks ago. I'm in the Vivaldi mood actually .... But I'll listen to it carefully this evening.As for the Demidenko / Perahia comparison - ber it in mind - Perahia plays original Bach, Demidenko Bach by Busoni. Try rather to compare this CD with the quite similar one - that of our favourite Angela Hewitt.

Peter Bright wrote (November 13, 2002):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Thanks a lot for your comments. I have to rush to the airport right now (yes it is Jana - well remembered!). I'll think a bit more about the Demidenko on my return - have a great 'rest of the week'...

John Grant wrote (November 13, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Would you care to comment on the sound quality of the later Tureck? Better than the 50's recording, I assume, which recording (for me) made a really detailed appreciation of Tureck's WTK difficult.


Well Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 846-869: Details
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
WTC I - D. Barenboim [D. Satz] | WTC I - D. Barenboim [P. Bright] | WTC I - T. Fellner | WTC I - E. Fischer | WTC I - M. Horszowski | WTC I - C. Jaccottet | WTC I - R. Kirkpatrick | WTC I - T. Koopman | WTC I - W. Landowska | WTC I - R. Levin | WTC I - O. Mustonen | WTC I - E. Parmentier | WTC I - S. Richter | WTC I - S. Schepkin
General Discussions:
Part 1
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
WTC I - T. Fellner
Well Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 870-893:
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
WTC II - D. Barenboim [P. Bright] | WTC II - G. Cooper | WTC II - F. Gulda | WTC II - A. Hewitt | WTC II - R. Kirkpatrick | WTC II - J. Middleton
Well Tempered Clavier Books I&II, BWV 846-893:
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
WTC I&II - B.v. Asperen, S. Ross & G. Wilson | WTC I&II - E. Crochet | WTC I&II - O. Dantone | WTC I&II S. Feinberg | WTC II&II - T. Nikolayeva | WTC II&II - L. Thiry [N. Halliday] | WTC I&II - Z. Ruzickova

Rosalyn Tureck: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Review: WTC Book I - Tureck (1975-1976) | Young Rosalyn Tureck’s Goldberg Variations | Tureck vs harpsichord in the Goldbergs
Discussions of Instrumental Works:
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Rosalyn Tureck

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Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
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