Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893, Book II
On top of allowing me to enjoy fabulous music, climate, scenery and, of course, chocolate to the fullest, my four-day stay in Verbier incidentally also provided with a valuable insight in Swiss history, namely that August 1 is Swiss National Day. Needless to say, I totally felt like I was in the right place at the right time.
I also decided that when in Switzerland, I would do as the Swiss do. That essentially meant hanging out at the lively street fair downtown, making a de rigueur stop at the charming Galerie du Chocolat for a light but tasty hot chocolate al fresco, and resting my still ailing joints to be able to take one more trip down rue de Médran and up route des Creux to the Church at Verbier-Station in the evening.
For some inexplicable reasons, in all my years of dedicated concert going I had never grabbed a chance to hear Sir András Schiff live, which is all the more unpardonable since our paths crossed more than once while his prestigious career was taking him all over the world. On the other hand, how better to fix this deplorable situation than by attending his performance of the second book of Bach’s legendary Well-Tempered Clavier at the Verbier Festival?
As an additional bonus, before the concert started in earnest, Schiff treated the packed audience to a short introduction to the work, even showing us the score and marveling that no corrections or transversal lines could be found in it, only waves of notes. After a few technical pointers addressed to the cognoscenti, he also assured us that he would try to finish in time for the fireworks. Clearly, the man had everything under control.
Written two decades after Book I, the more ambitious preludes and fugues in Book II offer a wider range of forms and styles, from buoyant to melancholic, from dark to poetic, which the consummate pianist handled with understated virtuosity. Having apparently decided to let the music speak for itself, he kept his playing subtle and unhurried, which ironically ended up making a remarkably strong impression.
The intermission-free performance wrapped up just before 10 P.M., but the outside world obviously could not wait that long, and about 15 minutes before the last note the first fireworks unceremoniously made themselves heard inside the hushed church. Completely unperturbed, Schiff carried on with a steady pace and unwavering commitment, which as we all know are key ingredients to successfully completing such a marathon, or any marathon for that matter.
Once outside, back on the village’s tiny square, three alphorn players dressed in full traditional garb were entertaining a small crowd while down the rue de la Poste the street fair that had been going on all day was still in full swing and sparkling fireworks occasionally lit up the pitch black sky. Who said that the Swiss don’t know how to party?