As so often with Bach, the plain-sounding title of the Well-Tempered Clavier gives little hint of the riches within. The composer may have intended it as an aid to students out to improve their playing, but the 48 preludes and fugues it contains range from the technically simple to eye-watering five-part fugues, from the insouciant to the dramatic, from the most introverted to the ebullient.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard has the kind of musical brain that can untangle the music of Ligeti and Elliott Carter, so it's no surprise that he brings to the fugues of Bach an unfailing sense of clarity and purpose. This is music whose overwhelming humanity can be brought vivaciously to life on the piano, as artists as varied as Edwin Fischer, Samuel Feinberg, Glenn Gould, Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Angela Hewitt have shown, offering as it does a wide variety of colour, timbre and dynamic shadings.
Aimard is on the cooler end of the spectrum, emotionally speaking; while this can work well in the famous C major Prelude or the toccata-like B flat major Prelude, sometimes he seems to underplay Bach's dance impulses (the A major Fugue) while the grief-stricken tread of the Prelude in the blackest of keys, B flat minor, is oddly unmoving. (Harriet Smit)