These three sonatas - composed originally for the viola da gamba and harpsichord - are very musically-appealing compositions. And unlike previous Baroque cahmber-music tradition, the harpsichord is not relegated to mere continuo but projected into the spotlight as co-soloist - perhaps to showcase some of Bach's keyboard virtuosity. There are several fine period recordings of these works on viola da gamba and harpsichord (Savall, Peri, Crum, Wispelwey) or modern cello with harpsichord (Ma, Tortelier). But if your taste favors all modern instuments (cello, piano), then this circa-80's CD by the legendary Martha Argerich and Misha Maisky is the ticket.
This set includes two of the rarest and hardest to find of all recordings: the 1958-59 version of the Bach Cello Suites by Janos Starker – the one everyone says his later recordings cannot match – and the extremely beautiful performance of Bach's unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas – the one that Japanese collectors pay 3-digit dollar prices for – in outstanding EMI Digital Re-Masterings.
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.
What you will find on this disc is A) contrapunctus I-IX played on two different organs in 1962; B) contrapunctus I II & IV from a1981 TV broadcast; C) contrapunctus IX XI & XIII in mono from a radio broadcast in 1967; D) the unfinished contrapunctus XIV from what may or may not be the same TV broadcast as B); and as a final filler E) a prelude and fugue on the name BACH from a studio recording in 1980. Items B)-E) are given on the piano.
András Schiff is one of the best Bach players among Gould, Rosalyn Tureck and Wanda Landowska. On Schiff's French Suites, every part from every suite has a different color and gives you different feeling. Every harmony is taken to its end with care, and dynamic balance is always delightful to listen. Articulation of the notes is excellent, full of humour, and in some places you surely start to smile and you feel very happy when you listen to Schiff. He also plays the slow parts very deeply and warmly, which is for some artists a big problem when playing Bach. There are also Italian Concerto and French Overture on the CD's, played brilliantly, so this set is really worth buying. Recommended for everyone.