There are many apocryphal stories in the classical-music world, but the one in which Frederick the Great challenged Bach to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme of the king's own invention is true, and The Musical Offering was, after a period of further reflection, the result. As with all the works of Bach's later years, the work is both great art and a "teaching piece," which shows everything that he thought could be done with the king's theme. The Trio Sonata based on the theme is the only major piece of chamber music from Bach's last decades in Leipzig, and that makes the work and essential cornerstone of any Bach collection. This performance, led by Neville Marriner, is both polished and lively, and very well recorded. At a "twofer" price, coupled with The Art of Fugue, it's the preferred version of the work on modern instruments.
During the final years of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) created the monumental body of music that can be considered his “Testament”, comprising the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and the B minor Mass. This latter work is a perfect synthesis of all his skill and flair in the art of composition (and essentially in that of counterpoint), as well as his gift for invention and his extraordinary sense of form, structure and number.
With his 2017 release on Erato, Jean Rondeau illustrates the beginnings of the harpsichord concerto, which can be traced from the Baroque masterpieces of Johann Sebastian Bach through the early Classical period, represented here by works of his sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and Johann Christian Bach. While this celebrated musical dynasty contributed to many forms in the 18th century, the keyboard concerto was given a special, innovative treatment by the Bachs, who effectively put the genre on the map.
There's nothing at all wrong with Maurizio Pollini's 2009 performance of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The Italian pianist's intellectual lucidity, interpretive clarity, and technical virtuosity are apparent in every prelude and fugue, and his probing insights and penetrating analysis inform every note. However, there is almost nothing right with the sound quality of the recording. The piano sounds too distant, making it hard to hear precisely what Pollini is doing, but oddly, the ambient sound is too present, making every extraneous noise too loud. One should not hear the pedals being pressed and lifted, much less the clatter of the hammers and the twanging of the strings above the sound of the music. Worse yet, one can hear what sounds like every breath Pollini takes nearly as loudly as every note he plays. These are all grievous flaws that should have been eliminated, and their presence fatally undermines the brilliance of Pollini's performances. A reengineered version of these performances would be most welcome, but the present recording is so flawed that it virtually destroys Pollini's playing.