Picks and Pans Review: Bach: the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
João Carlos Martins, piano
Heralded in the '60s as a major new Bach interpreter with a style as personal as Glenn Gould's, Martins by the early 70s was working as a bank teller in his native Brazil. What happened? In 1968, in New York, some members of a Brazilian soccer team, staying in the same hotel as the pianist, invited him to work out with them in Central Park. Martins, then 28, was an avid fan and agile amateur player. He played goalie. Diving to block a shot, he badly scraped his elbow. A fleck of gravel remained in the wound, and over the next two months it worked its way to a nerve. Part of Martins' right hand went numb. He had surgery, then plunged back to concertizing without any physical therapy. Soon muscles in his right hand atrophied, leading Martins at first to play with splints on his fingers and finally to abandon the piano altogether. In Brazil he studied economics, rose from teller to bank vice-president, founded a construction company, managed two champion prizefighters and became a millionaire. But he missed music and labored for two years to restore his marvelous technique and warm coloration. In 1978 he proved to a sold-out Carnegie Hall that he had succeeded. Martins delivers the "masculine" sound he has said Bach demands. And his latest project—of which this set is the third installment—is a plan to record all Bach's keyboard works by the composer's tricentennial in 1985. It will make quite a monument. As for Martins, on his private field in Sao Paulo, he still plays soccer. But not goalie.
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