Checking up on what Aldwell was up to these days–I remembered hearing something vague about his working on some new recordings–I found out that he died in an ATV accident a few months ago. Turns out he was getting ready to record the English Suites, but now we’ll never get to find out to find out what his interpretation might have been like, which is a real shame. Amazon lists about 6 CD albums, belonging to him, all but one of them Bach. There must be others recorded on LP and not remastered, and I’d be interested to find out what those might be.
Not coincidentally to his being my favorite Bach pianist, Aldwell was one of the leading authorities on music theory, and co-author of a standard text on (Schenkerian) harmonic analysis. This knowledge certainly comes through in his ability to bring out harmonic and contrapuntal nuances in the fugues that most performers miss.
It is interesting to speculate why such a superior pianist never attained the super-start status achieved by the far inferior Glenn Gould. It seems that it has a lot to do with timing: Gould came of age at the beginning of the high fidelity recording era, and at a time of increased awareness of Bach’s secular work among the general public (well, the admittedly tiny segment of the public that pays any attention to classical music). The first to record a work in a marketable way has an enormous advantage in gaining “standard” status for their interpretation. Further, Gould seems to have been willing to churn out recordings of simply everything that Bach wrote, regardless of whether he had really done the study and introspection requisite to the task at hand. Whether by happenstance or design, Gould offered the right image of “eccentric perfectionist nerd” expected by the public (without necessarily having the substance to back it up in all cases). Aldwell, by contrast, seems to have been cautious to a fault about taking his performances to a recording studio to be fixed in stone.
At least, while we wait for the re-issuing of some things from the Aldwell catalogue, we have these wonderful interpretive movies of the Well-Tempered Klavier fugues to keep us diverted. These movies are one of the most worthwhile things I’ve found on the ‘net. While Korevaar’s (very respectible) interpretation of the fugue plays, an animated Shockwave presentation gives a (usually) Schenkerian analysis of the construction of the fugue, and sometimes an additional historical, cultural, or personal notes on the interpretation or performance. This site, alone, makes it worthwhile, in my opinion, to install the Shockwave player.
Note: I have been unable, despite following the instructions on the site and Shockwave’s site, to get the movies to work consistently on Firefox and an Intel Mac. Although the animated interactive introduction and some movies play, more often selecting one of the “keys” causes a crash of the web browser. I’d be interested to know if anyone out there has a better experience with this setup and if there are any further tricks I ought to try to get the movies to work.
UPDATE: There’s a sample of Aldwell playing (the Gigue from the 5th French Suite) at this site. I found that the following procedure gave the best results: right clicking on the link to the .mp3 and “save as…”, then opening the file in your player.del.icio.us |Digg it |ma.gnolia |StumbleUpon |