CD+DVD Reviews

J.S. BACH: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 – Don Freund, piano – Navona Records (2 CDs + 1 DVD)

Don Freund has decoded complex elements in Bach’s piano writing and is now sharing these with his listeners.

Published on July 17, 2012

J.S. BACH: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 – Don Freund, piano – Navona Records NV5869, 2 CDs + 1 DVD (4:3 & PCM stereo) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

Don Freund is Professor of Composition at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. During his illustrious 40 years of teaching, Freund inspires his students and audience via a variety of teaching modalities, one of which is using effective teaching tools to facilitate deeper insights in a composer’s oeuvre and the process of composition. As a composer himself, he experiments with new idioms to heighten one’s enjoyment of classical music, as those who heard his performance of Earthdance Concerto would attest. Respected internationally and acclaimed for his workshops and lectures, Freund is “a composer thoughtful in approach and imaginative in style.” (The Washington Post).

Professor Freund’s latest project released on Navona Records is one such example in support of the above introduction. Entitled A Composer’s Approach – with Don Freund, this is an album in which the composer-pedagogue takes Bach’s magnus opus, the Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier under the dissection microscope. In Discs 1 & 2, Freund tackles the whole of the 24 in a fastidious undertaking. While his pianistic results may not reach the same pedestals of artistic significance and virtuosic brilliance as noted performances by Edwin Fischer (EMI, 1930s), Friedrich Gulda (Philips, 1970s), Sviatoslav Richter (Victor, 1970s), Rosalyn Tureck (BBC, 1970s) or Zhu Xiao-mei (Mirare, 2009), the merits to Freund’s undertaking in this project is quickly recognized in the DVD (Disc 3) that accompanies this set. Here, the pedagogue offers critical analysis to the first four of the Preludes and Fugues, with detailed lessons highlighting compositional techniques that Bach employed and the many critical aspects involving sound production, expression and articulation that are quintessential to their effective performances on a modern instrument. Freund also devotes much time explaining the use of the damper pedal on a modern piano when performing Bach’s keyboard works, in which its employment transforms the typical “polyphonic clarity” of sound into a pristine one that is defined by “intimacy and directness.” Similarly, he highlights the sparing, yet important, use of the sostenuto pedal in places that demand sustained pedal tones to generate added textures to the overall architecture of the work.

While many of the compositional tricks discussed by Professor Freund may parallel scholastic research previously done by Bach scholars—specifically those interested in examining the modern performance styles of Bach’s keyboard works—this is still a set worthy to be a part of a classical music lover’s collection. These three discs contain the knowledge and fascination of a composer-pedagogue-pianist, who has decoded complex elements in Bach’s piano writing and is now sharing these with his listeners. This is highly recommended for any keyboard and composition students, particularly to those interested in J.S. Bach.

—Patrick P.L. Lam




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