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Johann Sebastian Bach

Performances of "Well-Tempered Clavier"

Samuel Feinberg, Part 2

I haven't said much of anything about the sound on Feinberg's set. It's not good sound for 1959, probably less worthy than the sound on Tureck's set. However, it never gets in the way of enjoying the performances, and that's the main consideration. Neither advantageous or a hindrance to enjoyment, the sound quality is acceptable.

Prelude & Fugue in F sharp major – Both pieces are delicately etched and full of the joys of life. The Prelude is very comforting and playful with its syncopation; the Fugue has greater urgency and a more mature nature. My favorite versions are the Suzuki Prelude and Gould Fugue; Feinberg's performances are very good but not outstanding. His Prelude and Fugue are fast; this reduces the comfort level of the Prelude and allows little time for all the delectable phrasing of the Fugue. However, he conveys the moods of the music very well, and his Fugue brings out a maximum degree of urgency. Although Feinberg might be a little willful in this series, his identification with the core of the music is never in doubt.

Prelude in F sharp minor – The Prelude works equally well when played in a subtle and slow fashion or played quickly with great excitement and even a sinister quality. Tureck takes the former avenue with a staccato approach, while Schepkin powerfully delivers the speed, excitement, and sinister element. Feinberg is on Schepkin's wavelength with an exciting reading fully Schepkin's equal. When initially listening to Feinberg, I was wondering where the 'sinister' went, then realized that I was a prelude ahead of where I needed to be; the G Major is highly optimistic music.

Fugue in F sharp minor – Richter's version of this 'all is lost' music is so incisive and of great impact. His stunning right hand projection and high degree of invincibility makes this a superb issue. Those two qualities don't ring out in Feinberg's version. His right hand is often quite subdued, and he tends to smooth out the Fugue. Another way of putting it would be that Feinberg places priority on resignation and sadness as witnessed by his frequently hushed presentation. By contrast, Richter sounds like a man who is ready for the black hole. He's in no rush to get there, but his strong step reveals his knowledge of its inevitability and that he accepts what he can not change. It depends on what you want from the Fugue, and I'll take the Richter interpretation. In addition, I think he delivers his approach more effectively.

Prelude & Fugue in G Major – Not a sterling sequence for Feinberg. I find him too fast in both pieces. His Prelude is no better than the ones from Gould and Richter; all three sound more concerned with speed than conveying joy. In the Fugue, Feinberg is all over the place in that he continuously shifts tempo and volume; some of it is jarring and none of it flows well. I much prefer Tureck in the Prelude and Schiff for the Fugue.

Prelude & Fugue in G minor – A wonderful series for Feinberg. I've loved Schiff's expansive and Fischer's tension packed Preludes; Feinberg is even better as he provides both expansion and tension with a level of poetry not equaled. His Fugue is rather serene and represents a great contrast with the superb Gulda Fugue; Feinberg brings out a comforting assurance which is very uplifting.

Prelude in A Flat Major – Heroism and dance give way to an even more exuberant display forged by sixteenth notes which also provide the music's excitement. There's celebration in the air, and it's constant and exhilarating. Tureck's staccato version is wonderful, and Feinberg also fully conveys the celebratory proceedings. I have to favor Tureck as her approach is the more distinctive one.

Fugue in A Flat Major – Nobility pervades what's referred to as the "Cathedral" Fugue. Hope is strong but not demonstrative. Feinberg gives as tender and expansive a performance as any I've heard. His version stands tall next the Hewitt which provides a stunning cathedral effect with the right hand.

Prelude & Fugue in G sharp minor – In the Prelude, Japanese children are in the playground unaware of the horror that will strike the first time that an atom bomb is leveled at a human population. The music has a bitter/sweet nature. It is serene and delicate with a subtle cloud cover. In the Fugue, the immediate impacts of destruction have passed. Survivors can't believe what has been unleashed upon them; it's a new world without any foundation to hang on to. The music is bleak and closed. The fugue's subject in all four voices struggles to rise to the surface but is beaten down constantly.

Hewitt's Prelude is my favorite. She excellently conveys the nature of the music and also provides the most beautiful reading; her accenting is superb. Feinberg is much quicker and reaches the music's core, but he can't provide the beauty of the piece as Hewitt does. Richter's Fugue is a powerful reading without sentiment; the doors are fully closed and I can almost smell the carnage from the blasts and the fear from the living. Feinberg again is on the quick side and less severe than Richter. The reduced severity puts him in Schepkin's category, but Feinberg's poetry is not as fully realized. Overall, Feinberg's relatively fast tempos in both the Prelude and Fugue are not advantageous to conveying the themes presented.

Update: The one and only problem I have with Feinberg's WTC continues to hold his set back from being an essential acquisition -a penchant for quick speeds which either do not well suit the music or do not play into Feinberg's strengths. However, even when this condition exists, there is no doubting Feinberg's intimate connection with Bach's sound world. The basic interpretations are spot-on; the approach to deliver the messages could sometimes be better.

Prelude & Fugue in A major – The Prelude is serene, delicate, and joyful. Jarrett best brings out these qualities, and Feinberg isn't far behind. He is more interesting in the Fugue which begins with eighth notes and then switches to sixteenth notes. Feinberg is highly distinctive during the first section as he smooths out the zig-zag motion but provides strong and decisive notes in a bell-like manner. Unfortunately, the sixteenth notes present a problem at Feinberg's speed; I had the feeling that the reading becomes too frenetic and loses focus.

Prelude & Fugue in A minor – The Prelude is graced with danger and excitement. Although Feinberg's performance doesn't measure up to Rosalyn Tureck's where every note cuts like a knife, it is exciting and ominous. Feinberg's reading of the Fugue is one that I find inconsistent and too fragmented. He flows along one moment, then jumps up and down the next. There's a fine line between expressiveness and willfulness, but I think that Feinberg crosses it in the Fugue.

Prelude & Fugue in B Flat Major – The Prelude is a frenetic-paced toccata which makes me think of chases, races, and guys hot on the heels of fast-walking women. Suddenly, the music gets heavier and improvisatory as energy continuously is built-up to great force and then released. Tureck is the personification of excitement and drama with her sharp delivery. Feinberg can't match her but does equal the better versions.

In the Fugue, a strong legato with skips in the subject make for a joyous experience tempered by increasing levels of worry as the Fugue progresses. Feinberg flies through this music; the projection of increased concern works well at this speed, but the music's joy has little depth. Check out Schiff's performance which is more uplifting than any other version I've heard.

Prelude & Fugue in B flat minor – Both the Prelude and Fugue are among Bach's most outstanding WTC pieces; they have great emotional depth, an extremely heavy negative weight, and rays of light that seem to come from out of nowhere. The music is tailor-made for Feinberg, and he responds with exceptional performances. In the Prelude, the "funeral" aspect is strong, and the sinking of spirit is complete at the conclusion. For the Fugue, Feinberg excellently captures through stretti the inevitability and repetition of misery. In this series, Feinberg is every bit as good as the superb preludes from Gould and Aldwell, and the fugues of Gould and Tureck.

Prelude & Fugue in B Major – Both are joyous, transparent, and share the same first four notes. For comparison, I listened to Bernard Robert's exceptionally comforting reading of the Prelude and the equally fine fugues of Richter and Schiff. Feinberg is at their high level. Initially, his fast pace in the prelude was not to my liking, but I was won over through additional listenings. Also, Feinberg's conclusion of the prelude is of one of majesty.

Prelude & Fugue in B minor – This series concludes Book I. The Prelude has a walking bass and two upper voices for imitation. Feinberg is surprisingly on the slow side with accenting and legato to die for; this is easily the best piano version I've heard. Unfortunately, it's back to the quick approach for Feinberg in the Fugue. Although an excellent version, I feel that Tureck's slower tempo results in greater impact of this music of great burden.

Summary for Book I: Strongly recommended for the idiomatic interpretations and a quite a few readings that are the best on record. My only reservation is that Feinberg sometimes travels at speeds faster than the music can well absorb. If he had reined himself in, his Book I would be as exceptional as Tureck's. As it stands, the set is one of the best ever recorded and as rewarding as the Gould and Gulda Book I issues. Tureck still is the commanding figure for this repertoire.

Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Don Satz.

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