A Wonderfully Rugged Book 1 of “The Forty-Eight” from Aimard

United StatesUnited States Bach: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 11.11.2014 (BJ)

Bach: Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1

Among the ranks of French pianists now before the public there are an impressive number of fine artists, but surely none commanding a loftier international repute than Pierre-Laurent Aimard. His account of one of the central pillars of the keyboard repertoire at this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital amply demonstrated why he is held in such esteem.

This being the first time I had heard him in the flesh, I found something appealingly modest—almost awkward—about his platform manner. Once he started playing, it was evident that the manner accurately represented the mind-set of a musician focused, not on any such outside elements as the audience (though there was also nothing impolite about his attitude), but purely and fixedly on the inner meaning of the music he was presenting.

From the very beginning of the work (or, more accurately, the collection), it was also clear that over-arching form and piquant detail were to be held in perfect equilibrium in Aimard’s interpretation. The ostensibly simple C-major Prelude flowed beautifully, but within each measure’s arpeggio figurations he would often pick out and stress an individual note that lent character to the harmonic progress of just its own particular measure.

Even more strikingly in the fugues, instead of the mysterious expressive veil that some pianists—and a few harpsichordists also—are inclined to spread over the music, Aimard’s resolutely rugged, exhilaratingly craggy articulation at once clarified each fugal entry and bathed the entire texture in a radiant daylight that was more effective than any kind of romantic half-light could be.

Thus technical wizardry and emotional wholeness, personal expressive quirks and universal meaning, were served with equal fidelity. This was great music-making. Can we look forward to a Book 2 of similar stature in a coming season?

Bernard Jacobson

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