Julliard grad Andrew Rangell has been building up a significant discography over the last 10 years or so, to varied acclaim and in mainstream repertory of no easy accomplishment. He now sets his sights on the first and most popular of Bach’s two sets of Well-Tempered Clavier, and while one can only admire the effort anytime someone delves into this music, any new endeavor faces rigorous competition.
I must state from the outset that I am an unrepentant Gouldite; his, while not the last word (is there a last word in this music?) remains as close to that elusive state as I think we are likely to encounter, and even if he may be considered in some quarters an “acquired taste”, it is certainly a taste worth having. But there are other ways to approach this music, and Rangell likes to play with it in the way that any of the romantics obviously did. His touch is rather percussive, not at all obscenely so, but prominently. He plays clever tricks with the resolution of chords and their sonic overlay, with interesting pedal effects; articulations are up for grabs; and most of all he leaves us with the impression that Bach is his oyster to mold and reshape as he pleases. I don’t for a moment disagree with this very personal artistic assessment; but at the same time I think he needs to realize that such a bold statement leaves him open to rabidly overstated criticism.
So how does it stack up? Pretty well, overall. The sound is somewhat close and dry, so we get the distinct impression that this is a recording meant for the silver disc. The closeness leads one to hear this as a very personal statement about a composer he loves. As such, I accept it, though I am not sure that this realization is one that I will be reaching for during “normal” times. But for a little extra nuance and creativity it might fit the bill—once in a while.
— Steven Ritter