The appeal of this release hinges more on its sound quality than on the quality of its well-known and excellent performances. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound very good. One can more or less hear Richter – details of articulation occasionally get lost, inner voices are sometimes obscured, and bigger sonorities are often opaque – but he sounds like he's miles away. One can hear Sanderling and the USSR Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra only faintly when they're quiet, somewhat better when they're louder, and all too well when they're really loud. There have been better releases of these recordings in the past – many listeners prefer the 1995 BMG-Melodiya issues – and there will likely be better releases in the future. This one's not worth it except for Richter specialists who have to have every release of every performance Richter ever recorded.
Naturally, Brilliant Classics could not afford to get the best baroque performers - this is a super budget set - but one thing that the listener discovers in this set is that there are many fine, even excellent "second tier" performers of Bach's music. Many of the instrumental ensembles whose recordings are in this set are excellent. The Consort of London, for example, is a pleasant surprise. They perform the Brandenburg Concertos and the Orchestral Suites…
Maria João Pires “shapes and colours every phrase, and with immaculate taste, and she makes sure the phrases end as eloquently as they begin,” wrote Gramophone in 1974. “She conveys not just the details but the relevance of every note to the whole … Best of all, she communicates everything she has discovered about the music, and it is worth having.” This Portuguese pupil of Wilhelm Kempff, Pires was one of the artists who defined the Erato label in the 1970s and 1980s. This 5-CD box gathers together the recordings she made over the period from 1976 to 1985 and it reflects the consistent focus of her repertoire, with its special emphasis on Austro-German composers of the Classical and early-Romantic periods. Embracing solo works, piano duets and concertos, it contains works by Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, but also by Bach and Chopin.
These CDs contain all Bach’s extant concertos that feature a solo keyboard. Most were written in the 1730s and are thought to be arrangements of earlier concertos, many of which are now lost (though two will be recognized as Bach’s E major and A minor violin concertos and the sixth is an arrangement of the fourth Brandenburg). The fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with harpsichord, flute and violin soloists, dates from 1721 and is generally regarded as the first concerto for a solo keyboard instrument ever written. Bach made the keyboard part particularly brilliant and included a huge cadenza; he certainly knew how to establish a genre with a bang!
In the Baroque period, there really was no such thing as an "orchestra" as we understand the term today. There were large collections of singers and players brought together for special occasions, but aside from those, an "orchestral" work was anything that required more than five or six players. Bach's harpsichord concertos, for example, can be performed by a couple of dozen string players plus the soloist, or with an accompaniment of one person per part, which is more or less what we get here. These small forces permit an unprecedented transparency of sound and sharpness of attack, even if some weight and body of tone necessarily get sacrificed. It's a perfectly legitimate way to play the music, however, and you won't find it better done than here.
"…The playing of the Retrospect Ensemble is spot-on from beginning to end. Tempos are brisk but not pressed to the point that compromises articulation or unanimity of bowing and fingering, and the readings are buoyant, energetic, and fresh-sounding. Complemented by Linn's wonderfully clear and transparent multichannel recording, Bach's music shines." ~Fanfare
…All in all, a real treat, one that has been thoughtfully programmed and thoughtfully performed. As Dinnerstein tends to prefer a more romantic approach toward Bach, one should be ready for that aspect upon listening. But if one listens with open ears, one will be greatly rewarded. The sound of the recording is clear and vibrant, with almost no reverberation. The sound is perfectly suited to home listening, never too dry. Hats off to the performers and the production team on a successful release.