J S Bach
The Well-tempered Clavier:
Book One & Book Two
£20.00 (4 CDs)
This masterwork has for three hundred years been considered Bach’s greatest contribution to keyboard music. Recognised as a foundation of excellence in playing technique and imaginative composition, it has inspired later geniuses from Mozart and Haydn through to Shostakovich.
The work forms two books, each containing 24 preludes and 24 fugues, covering all the keys of the chromatic scale. Featuring a huge variety of style and mood, it makes for memorable and highly entertaining listening. This double CD contains Book One - Preludes and Fugues numbers 1 - 24.
The instrument used in this recording is my 2016 harpsichord after an original by Nicholas Celini. (You may also be interested to see how I went about restoring the original, dated 1661.)
Total playing time CD One: 59.31
Total playing time CD Two: 62.12
Total playing time CD One: 72.01
Total playing time CD Two: 75.33
These recordings have prompted these responses from experts in the field:
ANDREW McGREGOR - BBC Radio 3 Record Review
A “48” firmly based on scholarly research into performance practice, yet offering something distinctly
different, from a player deeply concerned with Bach as a composer of music full of beauty and emotional
force. A copious and entertaining booklet offers an unusual depth of insight into Bach’s mindset, and the
context of this timeless music, including an investigation of the word “well-tempered”. I would urge anyone to
buy this…there are so many things to be learned here, from the playing as well as from the superb notes.’
JOHN KITCHEN - Harpsichord and Fortepiano, October 2020
This is one of the most carefully considered and significant recordings of Bach’s complete Well-tempered
Clavier that I have encountered: stylish, expressive, authoritative and compelling, and with refreshingly
individual touches. The finest compliment I can pay to these outstanding performances is to assert that the
music, not the performer, always comes first.
BRADLEY LEHMAN - American Record Guide Review
Booth produces a stimulating performance on a harpsichord he designed and built. Along with his booklet
essay, his work is a master class presenting new ideas about rhythmic profiles, tempo, and ornamentation. He
demonstrates a remarkably effective formula for playing Bach on the harpsichord: pick a patient and steady
tempo, install a very subtle rhythmic inequality into your brain, and then let the piece play itself out easily with
intuitive musicianship. The inequality is so tiny that it can’t be notated, but when other players don’t use it the
absence is felt (like making oatmeal but forgetting the dash of salt). The piece must be learned so well that
there is no struggle or further manipulation. Booth is a world-class player.
CAROLYN WINTER - Capriccio Baroque
It’s impossible not to remain fully engaged through each and every work in this breathtakingly beautiful
recording. Booth’s recording is as near perfect as would seem possible - the harpsichord’s voice has a
wonderful clarity and fullness, the recording is crystal clear, and the performance exquisite and completely
RICHARD MASTERS - MusicWeb International
The tuning, Kirnberger III, was devised in the 1770s by Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a student of Bach. As
described in the excellent and comprehensive booklet notes by Booth, it features either a slightly “short” fifth
(the fifth of a chord is tuned low), or a high third. The tuning is comparatively subtle – there is no bar-room
upright jangling here – but it does have a distinct color in each key, something which is lost in equal-
The playing is excellent. Booth is not afraid to ornament when the Muse strikes him, but he does so with taste
and discretion. The ornaments don’t slow him down, and they also don’t pull at the attention; they simply
complement the notes Bach wrote, giving the score a bit of extra panache. In the slower, more inward-facing
pieces, Booth desynchronizes the hands to great emotional effect. He also utilizes appropriate rubato to
emphasize interesting chords and progressions.
This is a deeply satisfying account of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The thoughtful performances and the pleasing
sound of the instrument combine to make this one of the best recent versions of Bach’s greatest pedagogical
DAVID STANCLIFFE Early Music Review
I find Colin Booth’s playing arresting: it does not trip off the fingers so as to make you feel it is all effortlessly
easy – which it isn’t, as any keyboard player will tell you. There is an honesty and a translucency about it, and
thanks to the exceptionally mellow harpsichord, my auditory nerves are never jangling as they are with some
superfast keyboard virtuosos. Every note is considered and placed, groupings even within complex time-
signatures are articulated interestingly, so that melodic shapes are never taken for granted and the direction
of Bach’s fluid imagination is never prejudged.
There are not that many CDs of solo keyboard music that pay repeated listening at frequent intervals, but new
insights are revealed each time I play a track: it keeps me alert, and I find that when for example I am looking
at an instrumental passage in one of the cantatas I am now more attuned to the possible shape and phrasing
of the lines than I ever was before.
So I am glad to have – and to be able to replay frequently – these intriguing performances. You won’t tire of
them, and they will open your ears to new possibilities every time you play one. This is a more than worthy
successor to Volume I, which I reviewed in December 2018, and has been well worth waiting for.
Stephen Malinowski has made a video realisation of the Prelude and Fugue in A major: