J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Sviatoslav Richter
Individual Works:24 Preludes and Fugues, BWV 846-869
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Le Chante Du Monde
Catalog Number:LDC 278516/26
Year Released/Recorded:1970
Comments:John Schwartz said:

Without peer.

John L. Grant said:

This recording changed my conception of what is possible on the piano with Bach, and changed my view of Bach. Although the recording is not well engineered, the playing is breathtaking, astonishing, incomparable. Richter's interpretation of the Well-Tempered is equalled, here and there in small degrees by other pianists, but as a whole, no other recorded interepretation comes even close to Richter's mastery of the instrument and the music.

Bertram Cruikshank said:

These abominations of Bach's WTC are a genuine travesty. Avoid these recordings as you would the plague! Richter relies TOO MUCH upon the use of the damper pedal throughout the entire recording. This effectively turns the polyphony of Bach into a cacaphony of noise and echos, which is undecipherable even to the most sophisticated Bach conoisseur. It is highly reminiscent of when young children who, in their first year of piano lessons, first discover the effect of the damper pedal, and begin playing entire pieces with it held down, laughing and giggling all the while. As a pianist myself, I am a firm believer that the damper pedal has no place whatsoever in the music of Bach, and the sostenuto pedal is only to be used on those rare occasions which require the sustainment of notes while others are played, which could not otherwise be reached by sustaining the notes with your fingers. Say what you like about Glenn Gould's interpretations. Though he hums incessantly,(and who in their right mind wouldn't over music this good!!) absolutely no other recording artist has more clearly distinguished between all of the individual melodic lines of these contrapuntal gems, while maintaining a unified harmonic structure throughout. In the final analysis of these Richter interpretations, if Bach were alive today, I guarantee these nightmares would kill him!!

The echoing sound of this recording is further exacerbated by the fact that it was not well-engineered and it was most likely recorded in a room with poor acoustics. Also, the piano which he plays has an irritating "twanging" sound to it.

Victor Gane said:

The work itself conbined with the interpretation makes it to be among my Bach's favorites. It is definitively a very intimate music that requires consentration and analysis. Unfortunatelly the quality of the recording is not the best, fact that can really obset any lover of Richter's playing (i.e. you can barely hear the basses). This is a must buy for anybody who appreciates both Bach and Richter.

Tim Long said:

I'm astonished that this recording has received so little critical notice let alone acclaim. One would have thought that when a pianist of Richter's stature recorded one of the pinnacles of the keyboard repertoire (and complete too!) someone would at least think it worthy of comment (which I have been unable to find in any of the
easily-available reviews)

Mark-Jan Nederhof said:

This recording brought me to a life-long love affair with Bach's music, back then still on LP.

When I listen to this recording, I imagine a pianist who has just taken a holiday after a successful tour, and has secluded himself in his summer house in the mountains. During a sunny morning he sets himself behind the piano and starts playing, not to please an audience, not to earn money, not to get good reviews from the critics, but just for himself, and he plays music that is closest to his heart, in just the way he experiences this music. And we as listeners are privileged to listen in to this intimate experience, somehow without being noticed.

Any comparison with Glenn Gould or with authentic practices on harpsichord is as unproductive as it is unnecessary. But if you want to know, I haven't touched Gould's recording ever since Richter's was re-released on CD. The recording quality is not too great, but what do you expect if you secretly press your ear to the window of that house in the mountains (actually these recordings were made in Schloss Klessheim in Salzburg, but you know what I mean).

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • John Schwartz
  • John L. Grant
  • Bertram Cruikshank
  • Victor Gane
  • Tim Long
  • Mark-Jan Nederhof
Date First Submitted:08/27/1995