Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – beautifully played by Céline Frisch

Das wohltemperierte Klavier

Yes, I know, Bach once more.

But to my defense, this is the first time I’ve written about this particular work, the famous Well-Tempered Clavier BWV 846-893.

Prelude no. 1 in C-major is probably known even to many  non-classical listeners, as it forms the basis of Gounod’s Ave Maria, and it is accessible enough for most piano students to attack it at some point during their classes (including me).

Obviously, there is much more to this cycle of works that takes you through every single key step by step. It consists of two “books” or parts of preludes and fugues covering all keys of our Western scale

Side note: In case you didn’t know, the term “well-temperament” refers to the tuning of the keyboard that was at that time recently invented. Before the well-tempered tuning, any given tuning used at the time worked well for some keys but didn’t really work for others. To simplify, the well-tempered scale by Andreas Werkmeister was the first where you could easily switch between keys without any of the keys sounding out of tune.

I already had a couple of nice recordings of this work, from old-fashioned but great Sviatoslav Richter to Andras Schiff (obviously), to both recordings of Angela Hewitt.

However, I never had a recording on harpsichord that really convinced me. Earlier I used to like Keith Jarrett’s recording on ECM. However, I’ve outgrown this recoding a bit. Both Egarr and Levin are very good, but still I wasn’t 100% satisfied.

Céline Frisch’s Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 

Céline Frisch The Well Tempered Clavier Book I Alpha 2015

I had first heard about Céline Frisch regarding her Goldberg Variation recording. But I never checked her out I must admit. I was too happy with Hantaï, and more recently Levit.

However, the February 2016 issue of Classica pointed me towards her Well-Tempered Clavier recording, so I went to Qobuz and gave it a listen. They awarded this album a “Choc“, their way of saying 5 stars, and called this “une interprétation magistrale“, probably best translated with “authoritative recording”. (It also received the highest rating from Diapason, the Diapason d’or).

And I was impressed, this version is so spot-on, so precise, but never technical, never dull. Bach on a harpsichord can easily get boring or annoying, when it is played too much like robot, or lacking any other kind of differentiation, as obviously on a harpsichord you cannot modulate your touch like you can do on a modern piano.

None of this here, you will be drawn into the music from the first second, and will want to listen to the entire thing. Not an easy achievement, given that this was composed to use Bach’s own words (translation thanks to Wikipedia) “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study”, i.e. essentially a piece to study your skills, not really for public performance and for somebody else to listen to it.

Frisch plays a copy of a Silbermann harpsichord. This instrument at the beginning takes some getting used to, it being a bit bright and slim. However, you get into it really quickly, also thanks to Alpha’s usual good recording technique, and after a while you really appreciate the transparency that let’s you hear through even more complicated fugues.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

P.S. And you can be sure her Goldberg’s are next on my playlist.

Author: Musicophile

I'm not a professional musician, I don't work in the music industry, I'm just what the name says, somebody who loves music. I've been in love with music for all of my life, took piano lessons for nearly 10 years, and played in several amateur Jazz groups. I go to concerts, both classical and Jazz, quite regularly. And I collect music previously on vinyl and CDs, now on my computer, and am slightly OCD on my music collection. You can reach me at Musicophile1(AT)

9 thoughts on “Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – beautifully played by Céline Frisch”

  1. “Bach on a harpsichord can easily get boring or annoying”

    Even harpsichordist Andreas Staier (who recorded an outstanding version of the Goldberg Variations) says listening to harpsichord for more than 45 minutes will make you insane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback Kerry. IMHO, it really depends on the mood, for example I can sit through the entire Goldberg variations for the approx 75 min duration just because it is such a fantastic work. That said, I agree Harpsichord is better in smaller doses.


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