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.
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.
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.
Having all of these works collected together is a real treasure. It is one of the most beautiful collections I've heard. 5 cd's of all of Bach's chamber music, exquisitely performed by the outstanding soloists of Musica Antiqua Koln. Reinhard Goebel's performance of the violin works is simply perfect. As I've said before, Bach's sonatas for violin and harpsichord have been in the shadows for too long, they deserve to be heard and this performance proves it. They are a delightful partnership between violin and harpsichord. The tempos are fairly brisk but the performance is so clearly articulated that the result is energetic and very rewarding.
Youthful Viennese pianist Till Fellner has performed J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier to critical acclaim across Europe, and has made it the backbone of his recital repertoire. For this recording of Book I, Fellner performs the 24 preludes and fugues with a rich and full sound, yet with the refinement and fastidious control required in these comprehensive studies of Baroque keyboard technique. Articulation and balanced phrasing are of paramount importance, and Fellner's energies are directed to the clean execution of lines and the careful shading of contrapuntal voicings. What emotion he communicates is subtle and somewhat constrained to the contrasting characters of each pairing – the preludes and fugues often play off each other – yet his interpretations are quite colorful and varied over the course of the set. Neither cerebral nor effusive, Fellner renders the music in an appealing middle area between schools of interpretation, and achieves imaginative results that should please both traditionalists and fans of period practice.