Receive a weekly collection of news, features and reviews
Partsong mentioned Peter Hill whose cycle of Messiaen is widely acclaimed. Have listened briefly to his book 1 and 2 and find it to be excellent in terms of the reproduction quality, especially at the cheap price! Will need to listen to him at length to form an opinion.
I do agree that Tureck is very good. What's your favorite harpsichord recording Chris? Leonhardt?
To respond to some of this avalanche of posts:
The Richter recording I have and appreciate more is the one on Melodiya (a live from 1969) rather than the "commercial" one on RCA. The sound is also more acceptable to follow.
The Schiff I mentioned is his recent recording on ECM. He really sounds more natural and in full command of his art of playing.
The clavichord, even in the hands of a Kirkpatrick is weak and even odd compare to the richness and variety of tones and dynamics of the Harpsichord, the Piano, let alone the Organ. Perhaps, for a more pedantic and musicologically interesting recording, one might indulge in the R. Levin's performances of the "48" on clavichord, harpsichord, Fortepiano and Organ (on Haenschler). Levin chooses the most "appropriate" instrument for each pair...
Socrates, you are right about T. Guenther, in his impressive First Book, on Cybele. However, a bit more naturally and very impressively recorded is the Triton's SACD recording of Book I with A. Rachman el Bacha, who is quite solid throughout.
I do not find Van Asperen so thrilling, while he is quite refine, but you are spot on for C. Schornsheim. She is one of the strongest contenders on Harpsichord. The recording is first class.
I have ordered the new recording of Peter Hill, on Delphian. Most of the (British) reviews are (obviously) very positive.
Since there are more than 100 recordings, in one or the other way, available, let me suggest some more names for Piano, Harpsichord and the Organ:
For the Piano: Roger Woodward, on Celestial Harmonies: Surprisingly very well performed and recorded. Jill Crossland, on Signum: I found this pianist very convincing and bright, balanced and intriguing. Ivo Jansen, on Void: very impressive, transparent and audacious at some crucial moments. Vladimir Ashekanzy, on Decca: always a worthy pianist in a fine and naturally recorded cycle. Zhu Xiao-Mei, on Mirare: an Asian view of the work, worth exploring it for all the inner beauty of this dedicated to Bach pianist (in a well recorded set). Daniel Barenboim, on Warner: although he might sound not idiomatic (maybe at all), he delivers a very beautifully pianistic reading with enough colours and shades.
For the Harpsichord: Leonhardt might be the starting point, but he sounds a bit outdated (due to his rough recording too). Hantai (on Mirare) is superb throughout, in a magnificent recording. Besides, Blandine Verlet (on Naive) is maybe even better, but not in the most natural recording. O. Dantone (on Arts) is most impressively recorded, while the performances are both refined and powerful, as needed. Sebastien Guillot has recently recorded a glorious Book II, in a very beautiful and natural recording (on Saphir). Likewise, C. Rousset has recorded a newly released set of a gorgeous Book II, on Aparte.
For the Organ: Christoph Bossert, on Ars Musici. For those who really believe this Preludes and Fugues suit for this instrument.
So, for such an essential work, one has to listen carefully and even repeatedly as many recordings as possible.
Janet, I do not purchase CDs on the basis of what I "like". As a collector, I buy anything of interest and significance, either as a composition or as a performance. For such an essential work as the WTC and with more than 100 recordings, 18 represents only a fraction of what I should have. Besides, I never underestimated the Music by J.S. Bach. I simply point out, as often as the situation permits, my great admiration of his son C. P. E. Bach and my great appreciation of his Music.
Chris, your observation about the "wonderful" op.20 by Haydn is absolutely pertinent and spot on. The Levin's recording is, on the contrary, a very good (suggesting) guide of which instrument can accommodate better each pair. So, I believe it is an interesting tool for listening the "48", at home, in a "pedagogic".
Camaron, I have the Pollini's First Book and I cannot say he can be among the strong contenders. However, he is keen on providing this Preludes and Fugues in a very well articulated and technically fine way, but I found him being far away from an emotional involvement in the various aspects of the beauty of the work.
The Prelude in c minor of the First Book is another "nascent" etude for using all fingers at all time. The Prelude does initiate a rather unsophisticated chord progression (less ingenious than its predecessor in C) with very restrained thematic development, in continuous figuration reaching a short of toccata resolution. The issue here lies almost entirely on the right tempo used throughout, so that a transparent articulation of the chord progression can be maintained and yielding to virtuosity display may be avoided. The Prelude can easily lends itself to a "noisy" virtuosic bustle.
This Prelude is one of the very few compositions of Bach with specific (written) indications for tempi changes (Presto in bar 28, Adagio in 34 and allegro in 35). These notable changes in tempo lead to similar "adjustments" in the texture and the limited thematic material. The actual question here is to project the key feature of this Prelude, namely the harmonic process. Instead of Gould, try...Goulda or Koroliov, for example, who opt for a slower tempo, a fast(er) Presto, a recitativo-like Adagio and a return to a more restrained allegro. On the contrary, Hewitt, Leonhardt, even Richter choose a faster tempo throughout. However, the latter has the capacity to "emphasizes" the Presto section and make the adagio part almost declamatory. Likewise, Hantai is superb in achieving the same thing, on the harpsichord (!), in a faster tempo throughout!
The Fugue is one (of the many) very compact ones, with a very intriguing interplay of the three distinct themes (the subject and the two countersubjects). It can be seen (and performed) as a refined and poised minature fugue, whose main appealing feature is its clearcut form and the ingenuity of the structural elements in using the thematic material. Harmonically, it is a straightforward fugue, but the rather unusual persistence of modulating in minor keys leads to a concealed tense narrative.
Again tempo is critical to build up the latent tension and refined drama. Schiff, in his more recent recording (for ECM), Verlet (on Harpsichord) and Richter (for performing some of his magical inventions looking and sounding so natural, in his Melodyia live recording) are quite convincing.
Not the greater or more ambitious c minor works we have encounter even in Bach.
Thanks for your post Parla, hope there are more to come.
I've now listened to so many people playing that coda that I've lost track of who does what! It seems evident that it has to be played somehow flexibly; exactly how is where all recordings defer from each other.
I don't know if Bach felt there should be some kind of progression in the ordering, but this pair feels somehow more sophisticated than the previous one. Next one is a whole step up in terms of craftsmanship, quality and complexity, and next one again is a high point of the whole book.
Not sure what you people think. I'm still keen for this to be a "slow-motion" thread, but if things are quiet for a while, we might want to speed it up a bit, until the cantatas start raining on us?
Camaron - yes I could go a bit faster for a few weeks. Looking forward to the next ones anyway!
That's ok about Gould, I'm fully aware that some people (maybe lots?) don't like him. Some others swear by him. He is indeed a polarizing figure! What I find harder to understand is an "all or nothing" attitude. Surely the player who has produced the most famous of the Goldberg must've done some of the 48 right?
What we do very much agree on is in the next pair! Before it though I would like to dwell a bit longer on the current one. Hopefully this evening I'll have time for it.
WTC Book 1 Prelude and Fugue in C minor
Some brief listening notes on three versions I have just listened to:
Richter - This interpretation is a bit 'romantic' for me, by which I probably mean dramatic. Camaron as you say there should be a restlessness and nervous energy here, but Richter plays it to me too marked (I don't mean ben marcato) in mood - I mean 'furioso' almost in character. The Presto section is then to me molto presto! Overall it is apparent that momentum matters more to him than shades/nuances in expression. Jane the sound is boomy and muddy yes. In the fugue, a stern and bold approach. My quibble on that is that it sounds like the different entries of the subject are having an argument rather than a continuous dialogue.
Schiff - I do like this one - it comes closest to what I think it should sound like. The tempo in the prelude is allegro rather than furioso, and therefore the presto section feels right and you can hear the notes articulated properly. I'm a bit puzzled by the semi-cut off (half-staccato if you see what I mean) on the first note of each bar. The fugue is very nicely nuanced and lots of shades of expression. The last three bars of this fugue should feel like a real point of arrival over the pedal octave Cs in the bass. This version does 'get' that, and to be fair, so did Richter.
Pollini - actually I think is ok in terms of playing. The sound on this though was a bit indistinct and muffled, and a bit 'jangly' at times. However, as it's DG I am guessing that the original LP or CD transfer will sound better than this on youtube. His presto section is too fast. His fugue is quite nice (in expression) and has a well-judged ending, both in the lead-up to the octave C pedal and during it.
Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...
That's fair enough Chris, if you don't like it you just don't like it. Actually, I'm one of those who find his second Goldberg more astonishing, even if he starts off so badly. Do this: listen to the 13th variation of his second Goldberg, and the Allemande from the fourth partita. If you don't like what you hear you can indeed move on from him (no need to report back!).
The latest news, features, blogs and reviews delivered weekly to your inbox!
If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.
Gramophone is brought to you by Mark Allen Group
Gramophone is part of MA Music, Leisure and TravelAbout Mark Allen Group | International licensing