J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Andras Schiff
Instrumentation:Piano
Individual Works:24 Preludes and Fugues, BWV 870-893
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:London
Catalog Number:471236-2
Year Released/Recorded:1987
Total Playing Time:disc 1: 74:13
disc 2: 70:02
Comments:Jan Hanford siad:

Perfection, Volume 2. Andras Schiff plays the piano more delicately than I've ever heard. While many pianists bully their way across the keyboard, pounding out the preludes and crashing through the fugues, Schiff flies lightly across the keyboard, with intelligence and sophistication. Pieces which previously started to put me to sleep suddenly made me sit up and listen. I am not a member of the academic club of critics who find his performance "over interpreted" or romantic. For me, it's just right.

William Keevers said:

Schiff is undoubtedly an enormously gifted pianist. But his playing of Bach suffers from the influence of German romanticism, which obscures much of the music. Specifically, Schiff tried to introduce false perspective into baroque polyphony which, in terms of the 19th century, has no sonata allegro form. Schiff gives undue dynamic emphasis to individual lines, at the expense of the overall fabric. Occasionally he buckles down and plays his Bach straight, and reveals himself to be a great technician. But, like Glenn Gould with his outrageous tempos, much of what Schiff does in this recording is wasted.

John Grant said:

There are so many different ways of playing the Well-tempered Clavier as a whole, and so many different approaches to each prelude and fugue, that generalizations are difficult--except the following: Unlike all other recordings of the 48, Schiff provides quite different readings of each piece. One is always surprised! Also, Schiff's capacity to separate the voices remains unequalled by any other artist including, I dare say, by Gould (whose intepretations are nonetheless marvelous).

A possible negative, if you are a fan of the "grand conception," you won't get it with Schiff. A number of the really lengthy and difficult preludes and fugues, for example, no.s 24, 8, and 4 from Bk 1, which can be played with a conception of the whole, do not, in Schiff's hands, provide the "architecture" or big picture, that S. Richter and R. Tureck sometimes give us. But my feeling is that this is just not what Bach is about for Schiff.

Some really terrific--indeed, unmatched--readings are Schiff's G major prelude and fugue from Bk 2 (no. 15) as well as many other later preludes and fugues from Bk 2. Bk 2, by the way, seems to have much better recorded sound than Bk 1.

Certainly a must buy.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • William Keevers
  • John Grant
And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:04/17/1995