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Johann Sebastian Bach

Performances of "Well-Tempered Clavier"

Book I from Christiane Jaccottet

Used CD's, due to their long life, are a blessing to serious collectors and those on tight budgets. I found two sets of Bach's WTC Book I in the used bins a few days ago. One is from Ton Koopman on Erato, the other from Christiane Jaccottet on Pilz 160121/22. The Koopman set wasn't exactly cheap, but Jaccottet cost almost nothing.

Christiane Jaccottet will be familiar to many Bach enthusiasts. Her Bach recordings have been circulating for a long time under various label names. The used set I picked up is from the Pilz Vienna Master Series. Opinions of her Bach recordings have ranged from 'good' to something like 'don't waste your time'. The main complaint appears to be that her playing has a mechanical quality to it.

Let's get the sound quality out of the way first. It doesn't come close to state-of-the-art sound; it's not even very good sound. Although early digital or perhaps because of it, the higher notes tend to have a brittle quality and the low notes do not project well. The sound is certainly acceptable, but don't expect to be impressed with it. That brittle sound I mentioned is most obvious in the Fugue in C minor.

Jaccottet does best in the pieces where a delicate nature and joy/comfort are appropriate features. She is exceptional in the Preludes in D Major, E Major, F sharp major, A Flat Major, and B Major. Her F sharp major Fugue is also in this category.

There are three other pieces where I consider her performances outstanding: the great drive and vitality of her C sharp major Fugue, her intense and foreboding Prelude in D minor, and the inevitability of her Prelude in E Flat Major.

The majority of Jaccottet's performances in Book I are mildly rewarding, easy to enjoy and easy to forget. Only one interpretation is a loser, the Prelude in C minor. Just like Schiff on Decca, Jaccottet tames the wild and demonic nature of the Prelude and makes it into pretty music which is emotionally stunted.

Overall, I'd place the quality of Jaccottet's performances at Bernard Robert's level on Nimbus. However, Roberts is significantly more enjoyable as he is given an outstanding soundstage.

Don's Conclusions: I can see myself listening in the future to particular preludes and fugues from Jaccottet's Book I, but I doubt I'll ever put it in the cd player and listen to all of it again. Much of the set is rather ordinary. Is it mechanical playing? Well, sometimes it does sound that way. The major advantage of the set is its tiny price. With that in mind, I can give Jaccottet a qualified recommendation. However, if price is a big issue, either Roberts or Jandó on Naxos would be the better acquisitions.

Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Don Satz.

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