The Well-Tempered Steinway = BACH: 24 Preludes from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I; 8 Two-Part Inventions; Four Duets; Ricer care a Tre from The Musical Offering – Findlay Cockrell, piano – Findlay Recordings, 69:43 [www.findlaycockrell.com] ****:
Performing on his Steinway D from the Emma Willard School, Troy, New York, Findlay Cockrell assembles a Bach program that reads more like a Chopin recital, particularly in relation to 24 Preludes (no Fugues presented here) from WTC I, arranged in a pattern that synthesizes the Circle of “Fifths” with an order that begins with the major-key preludes and proceeds by a fourth to the minor mode of the next prelude, then its major, and again up a fourth. The minor preludes tend to conclude with a Picardy Third that invokes the major mode, the stereotypical “happy ending.” Cockrell, who admits to enjoying a form of synaesthesia, places compositions in orders that appeal as much to his visual as his aural sense of proportion. The late Duets (actually “Inventions”) of Bach from his Book III of Clavieruebung extend the “teaching practice” of the simpler Inventions both in their length and artistic ingenuity, especially in their invertible counterpoint. When we come to the E Minor Duet (“fire”), we know we have been cast into a startling new harmonic universe, neither tame nor beautiful in any conventional mode.
Cockrell proves a strong Bach exponent, articulate, digitally fluid and dramatically poised. His ornaments, runs, and luftpausen well conform to the learned Bach style. Each of the Four Duets, juxtaposed against the more conservative Inventions, pierces our composure with striking dissonances and crisply bold colors. Cockrell’s spun line has great tensile strength, and his long experience comes to fore in ability to balance contrapuntal lines with melodic appeal. Occasionally, we hear something of the fury, if not the extreme pointillist demonism, of Glenn Gould, as in the C Minor Prelude. The A Minor Duet keeps strict time and almost mechanical articulation of the contrapuntal lines. Severe, austere, and chromatically compelling, the piece concludes a quartet that Cockrell likens to the four alchemical elements of fire, air, water, and earth. The final selection, the Ricercare a Tre in C Minor Bach composed on a theme provided by King Frederick the Great, summons us to compare Cockrell to another keyboard reveler in layered harmonies, Charles Rosen. Listening to the set of Preludes, WTC I, without the fugues both reduces them an extended set of character pieces and raises them to a chromatically ingenious suite by Schumann, a Baroque masked ball. Even the veteran Bach collector or aficionado will find himself seduced and delighted by this collation, “tempered” beautifully by engineer Christopher Greenleaf.
In Memoriam… a fine tribute to Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire