Although not quite at the level of profundity of his teacher Gustav Leonhardt's recording, Kenneth Gilbert's 1983 recording of Book 1 of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier does have a style and polish that Leonhardt's too often lacked. Thus, while Leonhardt goes further into some of the minor-key fugues to find intellectual and spiritual depths that Gilbert does not plumb, Gilbert's playing is so much more elegant and graceful than Leonhardt's that it is difficult to choose between them. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of virtuoso works whose success depends on the effortless refinement of the player, the Gilbert, with its superbly remastered sound, will be the one to get. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of prayers written as preludes and fugues, the Leonhardt will be preferable. Both are superb and both belong in any Bach collection.
Following the fine critical praise for his pioneering recording of the complete Harpsichord Suites of G.F. Handel, Gilbert Rowland moves to the lesser known but equally inspired Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) who composed these suites in 1714. Although generally following the then current Dance Suite format used so much by Bach, Handel and others, Mattheson created variety with different dances (such as the Tocatine) and varying numbers of movements. Certainly very musical and original, these Suites deserve to be considered on a level with those of Handel at the very least. Masterful performances by Gilbert Rowland who plays a 2-manual French-style instruments by Andrew Wooderson (2005) after an original from 1750 by Goemans.
In his recording of Bach's 48 Colin Tilney, unlike his fellow competitors in the same repertory, plays both a clavichord (Book 1) and a harpsichord (Book 2). Why not? Bach's title for the first book of 24 preludes and fugues, The Well-tempered Clavier leaves both this issue and that of tuning wide open. The clavichord was a favourite instrument of Bach's, so was the harpsichord and the organ; indeed, I am sorry that Tilney does not include a chamber organ since some of the pieces, the E major Prelude and Fugue (Book 2), for instance, seem well-suited to it. Tilney's performance of the 48 differs again from almost if not all others in the sequence which he adopts in playing the preludes and fugues. But an apparently random approach is in fact nothing of the kind, but one that is directly linked with tuning. We know that Bach himself was a master in matters of tuning as he was in all other aspects of his craft. What we do not know is the exact nature of his tuning.
This is a really great five-CD set. You get all of Bach's concertos except the Brandenburgs - which is a shame because Pinnock's Brandenburgs are terrific. Nonetheless, this remains an absolutely cracking collection of some of Bach's most enjoyable music in excellent performances. In the Harpsichord Concertos Pinnock is himself the soloist and shows why he is such a very well-liked and highly regarded musician. The music springs to life under his fingers (and under his direction) and many of these performances set new and enduring standards when first released in the early 1980s. They have informed much subsequent Bach playing and have worn extremely well themselves, sounding as fresh and involving as they did nearly 30 years ago. He is joined by other fine harpsichordists in the concerti for two, three and four harpsichords, (Kenneth Gilbert, Nicholas Kraemer and Lars Ulrich Mortensen) and the Concerto for Four Harpsichords in particular is an absolute joy.
This is a superb recording of the Two-Part and Sinfonias (Three-Part Inventions) of Johann Sebastian Bach. Kenneth Gilbert is a wonderful interpreter of Bach's keyboard music and in this recording plays an instrument made in 1671 by Jan Couchet that was subsequently enlarged in 1778. The Two-Part Inventions and Sinfonias consist of 15 parts; they were written as technical exercises and as composition demonstration pieces originally for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. The various pieces were probably written separately and were gathered together by Bach in major/minor key sequence and published in 1723. The recording is clear and well balanced. Kenneth Gilbert plays beautifully; the music is lively without being ostentatious.
In the '80s there were those listeners who thought that Heinrich Schiff might redeem cello performance practice from fatal beauty and lethal elegance. Aside from the burly and brawny Rostropovich, more and more cellists were advocating a performance style whose ideals were perfect intonation and graceful phrasing. In some repertoire, say, Fauré, these are perfectly legitimate goals. In other repertoire, Beethoven and Brahms, say, it is a terrible mistake. In Bach's Cello Suites, as the fay and fragile Yo-Yo Ma recordings make clear, it was a terminal mistake. Not so in Schiff's magnificently muscular 1984 recordings of the suites: Schiff's rhythms, his tempos, his tone, his intonation, and especially his interpretations were anything but fay or fragile. In Schiff's performance, Bach's Cello Suites are not the neurasthenic music of a composer supine with dread and despair in the dark midnight of the soul, but the forceful music of a mature composer in full control of himself and his music.
For this hybrid SACD of famous organ works by J.S. Bach, Masaaki Suzuki plays the restored Schnitger-Hinz organ in the Martinikerk (Martin's Church), in Groningen, one of the most celebrated instruments in the Netherlands and one which dates back to Bach's time. Its bright, Baroque sonorities and Suzuki's historically informed interpretations give these performances a compelling sense of authenticity and period style. The pieces are among Bach's greatest hits, particularly the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which gives the program a decisive opening. Following that flashy demonstration, Suzuki is relaxed and almost contemplative in the Pastorale in F major, and continues his thoughtful readings in the Partita on "O Gott, du frommer Gott," the Prelude and Fugue in G minor, and the Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her." Yet he includes two sparkling virtuoso performances in the Fantasia in G major and the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, which keep the album from being too soft and subdued. BIS' super audio sound is crisp and detailed, which is no mean feat in a church recording.
The late Nathan Milstein’s 1975 stereo remake (DG mid-price) was his own preferred version of these pillars of the violin repertoire with which he had been so associated since his youth in Odessa. But his (broadly faster) mid-Fifties New York account, now remastered and restored by EMI, was a famous yardstick of its time – a grandly phrased, aristocratically structured, Romantically resonant statement to treasure beside Menuhin and Heifetz. These are epic virtuoso performances justifying Milstein’s view that with this music the performer could ‘bask in the most glamorous light’. Stylistically, purists will object to their expressive liberty and gesture. But few will be able to resist their artistry or intensity of delivery.
Julian Bream is, without a doubt, one of the premiere classical guitarists of the modern recording era. Comparisons between great guitarists is often unfair and misleading as they each have their own styles - and each musician and his/her style tends to be particularly well suited to certain types of music. For example, Andres Segovia's style, cultivated by self-teaching throughout his now ended life, concentrated on flowing legatto smoothness and flowing melodies. Bream's, on the other hand, while equally masterful, is better characterized as emphasizing the precision and crispness of each and every individual note. What better composer to focus on to show this particular proclivity that J. S. Bach, whose work, having been written largely for the keyboards (harpsichord) but also for the lute and triple harp, tends to emphasize the kinds of music Bream excels at. Stacatto phrasings, each written to be played with crystalline exactness, are the types of pieces wherein Bream's magnificence is conspicuous and best showcased. Thus, the special relevance of this particular compilation of some of his best Bach work on this CD.