Although not quite at the level of profundity of his teacher Gustav Leonhardt's recording, Kenneth Gilbert's 1983 recording of Book 1 of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier does have a style and polish that Leonhardt's too often lacked. Thus, while Leonhardt goes further into some of the minor-key fugues to find intellectual and spiritual depths that Gilbert does not plumb, Gilbert's playing is so much more elegant and graceful than Leonhardt's that it is difficult to choose between them. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of virtuoso works whose success depends on the effortless refinement of the player, the Gilbert, with its superbly remastered sound, will be the one to get. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of prayers written as preludes and fugues, the Leonhardt will be preferable. Both are superb and both belong in any Bach collection.
Dantone opens book two with an exceptionally tender interpretation of the first prelude; this work is often played too quickly, too aggressively, but Danton is very humble in his performance of this piece, he lets the music take over rather than directing it too rigidly. His performance of the C sharp major prelude is a gem - his ornamentation is fresh and delightful, his phrasing subtle and inventive. He takes this piece and gives it new life, infusing it with joy and happiness. Even the following fugue takes on this tone, in spite of the radical difference between the two pieces.
Ottavio Dantone studied organ and harpsichord at and graduated from the Conservatory "G. Verdi" in Milan. Beginning his career at a young age, Dantone dedicated his studies to early music and to collaborating with various orchestras, acquiring considerable experience in basso continuo, in the art of which he is now considered an authority. In 1985, he was awarded the basso continuo prize at the International Paris Festival and in 1986, he received an award at the International Bruges Festival (two of the most renowned harpsichord festivals in the world).
Ten years ago Angela Hewitt recorded a version of The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I which dazzled the critical world and record-buying public. It was followed shortly afterwards by Book II which was similarly received. Now, fresh from her Bach World Tour—in which she performed the complete Well-Tempered Clavier from August 2007 until the end of October 2008 in 58 cities in 21 countries on six continents—Angela has made an entirely new recording of this most iconic of keyboard works.
As a young pianist, András Schiff earned wide esteem for his 1980s recordings of the major keyboard works of J.S. Bach; in recent years, as part of his long term relationship with ECM, he has gone back to Bach as a sage veteran, earning more acclaim for his New Series recordings of the Goldberg Variations (2003) and the six Partitas (2009). Now, using his own Steinway, Schiff turns his focus to the 48 preludes and fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier, making studio recordings in Lugano of both books for this 4-CD set.
The Well-Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperirte Clavier in the original German title), BWV 846–893, is a collection of solo keyboard music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. He first gave the title to a book of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys, dated 1722, composed "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study." Bach later compiled a second book of the same kind, dated 1742, but titled it only "Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues." The two works are now usually considered to comprise The Well-Tempered Clavier and are referred to respectively as Books I and II. The Well-Tempered Clavier is generally regarded as one of the most influential works in the history of Western classical music...
There's little competition for the best recordings of Bruch's symphonies, but what competition there is is stiff, very, very stiff. On one side, there are Kurt Masur's opulent accounts with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester from the late '80s, on the other, there are James Conlon's urgent readings with the Gurzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker from the mid-'90s. And yet Michael Halász and the Staatskapelle Weimar have found a way to top them both by delivering performances of surpassing warmth and beauty that still have unstoppable drive and momentum in this 2008 recording of Bruch's First and Second symphonies. One is reminded here and there of the composer of the famous violin concertos, but for the most part, Halász turns in performances of such conviction and authority that it makes one think Bruch's reputation as a symphonist has been seriously underestimated for the past century and a half. Captured in clear, colorful digital sound, this disc deserves to be heard by all fans of 19th century German symphonic music.
In an age of artistic conformity, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) had a refreshingly individual voice. In his own time he was described as 'a reserved, bigoted Catholic, but also a respectable, quiet, unassuming man, deserving of the greatest respect'. His music earned Bach's respect for its serious contrapuntal procedures; today's listeners, though, are more immediately charmed by Zelenka's quirky turns of phrase and flashes of original genius. There are plenty of these in the Passion oratorio Gesù al Calvario (1735), one of the composer's three late oratorios. This is an essentially contemplative oratorio. All the 'action' is concentrated into a single scene in which the three Marys and St John are waiting on the Mount of Calvary for Jesus after he has been sentenced to death. The crucifixion itself is not depicted, just the emotional reactions to it.