J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Keyboard Works (box set)

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Kenneth Gilbert
Individual Works:cd's 1 and 2:

English Suites:
no. 1 in A, BWV 806
no 2 in A Minor, BWV 807
no. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808
no. 4 in F, BWV 809
no. 5 in E Minor, BWV 810
no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 811

cd's 3 and 4:

French Suites:
no. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812
no. 2 in C Minor, BWV 813
no. 3 in B Minor, BWV 814
no. 4 in E Flat, BWV 815
no. 5 in G, BWV 816
no. 6 in E, BWV 817.

cd's 5 and 6:

no. 1 in Bb, BWV 825
no. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826
no. 3 in A Minor, BWV 827
no. 4 in D, BWV 828
no. 5 in G, BWV 829
no. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830.

Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Harmonia Mundi
Catalog Number:HMX 2908078.83
Year Released/Recorded:1975; 1981; 1984-5
Total Playing Time:6 hrs., 2 min., 41 sec.
Comments:Thomas Hubeart said:

This bargain reissue set is labelled as "6 CDs for the price of 3" and brings together Kenneth Gilbert's 1975 recording of the French Suites, his 1981 English Suites, and his 1984-85 Partitas. Given Gilbert's reputation in the world of authentic instruments and performance practice, one would expect the artistry to be on a very high level, and this collection does not disappoint.

Gilbert plays splendidly, and although I cannot say that his take on the French Suites outshines that of Christopher Hogwood--whose 1984 recording includes two extra suites and splendid scholarship, including what seems to me the most convincing reading of Suite 1's gigue--, he lets this music sing without resorting to overdramatization or eccentricity. Gilbert's readings seem intended to convey Bach's own conception of his music, as opposed to the overlay of interpretation that some modern performers bring to the scores, or the over-fussiness that mars some original-instrument renditions.

One caveat, however: Harmonia Mundi deserves a sound rap on the knuckles for the awkward packaging of this set. Of course one expects paper-sleeved discs in a bargain set like this rather than full-price packaging, but do the sleeves have to be so tight that the discs have to be forcibly removed from them? There is also no indication as to which recordings are ADD and which fully digital, which is a minor point but may be important to some; however, the sound is uniformly good, aside from a bit of (understandable) harpsichord clacking on a couple of French Suites tracks. All in all, this is a convenient way to have good recordings of three of Bach's major keyboard suite-sets.

Jan Hanford said:

A wonderful collection. Kenneth Gilbert is one of the most highly regarded of harpsichords. His peformances are excellent. I agree with the above that his interpretations are more straight-forward than some of the modern "HIP" performers, who I also find overly fussy and often unpleasantly frantic. Gilbert is a reliably elegant and refined performer.

I did not have the problem with the packaging as the reviewer above. I prefer paper-sleeved packaging rather than jewel cases, and had no problem getting the cd's out of the sleeves. The sound is excellent, however the harpsichord used for the French Suites is a little harsh, or it was recorded that way. There is also more reverb on the Partitas, and I prefer harpsichord to be recorded dry. But these are minor complaints for an otherwise exquisite set. Highly recommended, if you can find if. It's part of the "Bach Edition" that Harmonia Mundi released for the year 2000 Bach anniversary. I'm disappointed to see it is out of print.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Thomas Hubeart
And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:01/11/2001