For mountain climbers there’s Mt. Everest. For runners, there’s the 20,000 meters marathon. For pianists there’s Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for harpsichord or clavichord or organ or, these days, for the piano.

Aside from extraordinary mental and physical demands, each of the two books asks of the keyboard player a complete technical command of the instrument: agility uppermost for the fugues, seamless legato for the preludes, utmost attention to the contrapuntal intricacies throughout, knowing which voice to bring out, what to highlight in a musical minefield.

It is amusing to read Bach’s self-effacing dedication: “for the advantage and use of the eager to learn young musician, and also for the entertainment of those already skilled…” As one listens to this music, young students or those looking for amusement at the keyboard are two of the kinds of musicians one thinks of last.

Beyond his impeccable technique, one thing that comes to mind repeatedly as one listens to the prodigiously gifted Dror Biran take on the challenge of playing by memory the 24 preludes and fugues of Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier is the unabashed emotional intensity that the Israeli pianist infuses into his interpretation of this music.

While listening for two hours to music fully owned by this remarkable artist one simply sits allowing music so exquisitely played transcend the limitations of critical listening. And that is the highest praise one can bestow on a musical artist.   

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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