The 20 Essential Bach Recordings

Monday, March 20, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Bach at the keyboard Bach at the keyboard (N/A)

With thousands of Bach music performances committed to recordings, it's hard to know where to begin. Here's our list of essential Bach Recordings.  

20. Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Ton Koopman, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

If Handel's Messiah is the quarterback of holiday music, Bach's Christmas Oratorio remains the second-string walk-on. But this underplayed, sprawling work, showcases the German composer at his best, with intimate arias, colorful instrumental pieces and uplifting choruses. Comprised of six cantatas meant to be performed from Christmas to Epiphany, the whole runs some two-and-a-half hours, significantly longer than Messiah. This 1996 version remains one of the finest on record, with vivid choruses, uniformly excellent vocal soloists and warm orchestrations.

Andras Schiff plays the English Suites

19. The English Suites
Andras Schiff, piano
Sony
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Like the French Suites or the Partitas, the English Suites come in a set of six, based on baroque dance and sometimes showing Bach at his most openhearted. Andras Schiff recorded these works in 1988, just six years after the death of another pivotal Bach interpreter, Glenn Gould. His version is strikingly different, emphasizing flexibility and a golden warmth more than drive and angularity. With ornaments in the repeats, Schiff also nicely underscores the music's dance origins.

Bach sinfonias

18. Sinfonias
Academia Bizantia
Ottavio Dantone, conductor
Decca
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Accademia Bizantina, founded in 1983 in Ravenna, Italy, has cherry-picked the most colorful orchestral introductions to Bach's Cantatas. Led by harpsichordist and organist Ottavio Danton, the group offers up colorful music that, while not being among Bach's most famous, has plenty of charms on its own.

Bach: Magnificat, Etc / Gardiner, Kirkby, Et Al

 17. Magnificat from Cantata 51: Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen
English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Emma Kirkby, soprano, other soloists
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Bach's Magnificat is one of the most beautiful, large scale settings of the Song of Mary. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, led by John Eliot Gardiner, made their name with this album, which also includes Bach's solo cantata, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51. This was the first cantata recording by Emma Kirkby, who went on to become a major figure in Baroque performances. Get a free download from this performance in our My Daily Bach podcast.

Angela Hewitt's Bach Arrangements

 16. Bach Arrangements
Angela Hewitt, piano
Hyperion
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Canadian-born pianist Angela Hewitt offers this wildly diverse assortment of Bach arrangements, nearly all of which are taken from organ or cantata movements. She has chosen from a range of transcribers, forming a who's who of early 20th century (mostly British) musicians, including Myra Hess, William Walton, John Ireland and Herbert Howells. She also includes three modest transcriptions of her own, plus five transcriptions from long-lived German pianist Wilhelm Kempff. Many of the selections are in the popular vein (Wachet auf, the opening Sinfonia in D from Cantata No. 29) while others are more obscure. Regardless, Hewitt plays them with a touch of rubato and nicely shaded dynamics.

Simon Preston, organist

15. Bach Organ Works
Simon Preston
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at Arkivmusic.com

British organ virtuoso Simon Preston made his U.S. debut in 1965, and his long career has included stints at Westminster Abbey and Christ Church, Oxford. For many years the organist had a contract with Deutsche Grammophon – imagine that in 2014! This recording, from 1989, features a half-dozen of Bach’s solo organ pieces including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Fantasia in G minor, Variations on “Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her” and the Prelude And Fugue In D Major, BWV 532. The set was recorded at the Kreuzberg Church in Bonn, Germany.

Arthur Grumiaux, violinist

14. Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Arthur Grumiaux, violin
Philips
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Bach wrote his three sonatas and three partitas over a span of some 17 years in the early 18th century, and while they were probably never performed in public in his lifetime, they're a cornerstone of the contemporary violin repertoire. Violinists including Julia Fischer, Jennifer Koh, Gidon Kremer and Christian Tetzlaff have made distinctive recordings of these pieces in recent years. But one that remains a benchmark is Arthur Grumiaux's version, recorded in 1961. While a bit more rough and ready technically than some modern accounts, it features a plush tone as well as drive and intensity.

Bach: Six Favorite Cantatas - Joshua Rifkin, Bach Ensemble

13. My Favorite Bach: Six Favorite Cantatas BWV 147, 80, 140, 8, 51, 78
Bach Ensemble
Joshua Rifkin, conductor
L'Oiseau Lyre
Available at Arkivmusic.com

During the 1980s and '90s, the Bach scholar Joshua Rifkin advanced the now popular theory that Bach's choral works were meant to be sung with only one singer on a part. In performances with the Bach Ensemble (an authoritative name if there ever was), Rifkin refuted the grand, pumped-up choral performances of decades' past. This collection, from 1997, includes six of Bach's most beloved cantatas, including Cantata 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" ("Sleepers Awake").

Brandenburg Concertos

12. Brandenburg Concertos
The English Concert
Trevor Pinnock, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Brandenburg Concertos are played so much that they rival Vivaldi's Four Seasons as emblems of the Baroque orchestral esthetic. But when Trevor Pinnock recorded the six concertos with the period-instrument English Concert, the landscape was much different. It was 1982 and he had to prove that that original instruments could play in tune with as much finesse as any modern rival. Most listeners and critics gave the group its due, and for years, their recording of the Brandenburgs was the standard recommendation. In 2007, Pinnock led a new rendition with the ad hoc European Brandenburg Ensemble. Some liked it even better. Still, that first traversal is hard to beat, and it's now conveniently packaged along with the four Orchestral Suites.

Till Fellner, pianist

 11. Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Till Fellner, piano

ECM 1853/54
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Book One of Bach’s “48” – the 24 pairs of preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys – have been recorded on many instruments (harpsichord, clavichord, organ, piano and fortepiano) and in many styles. In this 2004 recording, the Austrian pianist Till Fellner strikes a middle ground that’s strikes a satisfying middle ground that is neither cerebral and cold nor flashy and mannered. He plays with a rich, full sound doesn't skimp on refinement and rhythmic energy. While the WTC has been recorded many times since – including a fine new rendition by Pierre-Laurent Aimard – this remains one of the high points in modern Bach performance.

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

10. St. Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists
Barbara Bonney (Soprano), Ann Monoyios (Soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Howard Crook (Tenor), Michael Chance (Countertenor), Olaf Bär (Baritone), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass), Andreas Schmidt (Baritone), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor)
DG Archiv
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Premiered on Good Friday, 1736, the St. Matthew Passion was the work Bach regarded as his greatest. Bach scholar and conductor John Eliot Gardiner has compared it to a great altarpiece by Veronese or Tintoretto. Gardiner’s 1988 account of the piece with the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and a top-notch solo team comes with a particularly feeling for drama and passion in every sense of the word. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is an admirable Evangelist and countertenor Michael Chance sings a warm and subtle “Erbarme dich.”

Rachel Podger - Bach Concertos

 9. Bach: Double and Triple Concertos
Rachel Podger, violin
Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor, BWV 1043, also known as the "Bach Double," is one of the composer’s most famous works and therefore it can be tempting to treat it as a star vehicle (celebrity violinist A + celebrity violinist B = marketing gold). But for this 2013 release, the English Baroque violinist Rachel Podger assembles a modestly-sized chamber orchestra gathers friends and students to play the solo parts – and it works. Podger, who plays with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, brings persuasive accounts of the Double (with violinist Bojan Cicic), the Triple (also with Cicic and Johannes Pramsohler) and lesser-known concertos for oboe and violin; and flute, violin and harpsichord.

The Swingle Singers.

 8. 'Bach Hits Back, A Cappella Amadeus'
Swingle Singers
Virgin Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Swingle Singers were formed 50 years ago in Paris by the American vocalist and jazz musician Ward Swingle. Their first album, “Jazz Sébastien Bach,” was a major Grammy-winning success and, as Guardian music critic Nicholas Kenyon wrote in 2011, it "seemed to symbolize a moment of openness in the 1960s, a coming-together of pop and classical music, that held out much hope for the future." There have been more than 80 different members over the years, but the current line-up has maintained their particular brand of a cappella scat singing. This recording, from 1998, features no fewer than three-dozen arrangements of Bach and Mozart. Among the highlights: the Badinerie from Suite No. 2, “Es ist genug,” and the Little Fugue in G Minor.

Mstislav Rostropovich

 7. Cello Suites
Mstislav Rostropovich
Warner Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

In 1995, at age 68, Rostropovich made his first complete recording of the Bach Cello Suites. They were pieces with which he had a career-long association, but never got around to recording in full. While the performances contain much that would inflame purists – and those who insist on technical perfection – they are intense, richly detailed and larger than life. Warner Classics has just reissued them as a budget 2-CD set.
• Related: Watch Rostropovich perform the Cello Suite No. 5 at the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Masaaki Suzuki.

6. Mass in B Minor
Massaka Suzuki, conductor

Bach Collegium Japan
Available at Arkivmusic.com

If you’re at all familiar with the buzz that surrounds classical music in China these days, it’s worth remembering that similar excitement enveloped Japan a generation or so ago. And it extended to early music. In 1990, Masaaki Suzuki founded the Bach Collegium Japan, a group that almost singlehandedly pioneered early-music playing in Asia. It made Suzuki an international Bach authority, with tours and more than 50 recordings for the BIS label. Among the most notable releases was the Mass in B Minor, a massive work in 27 sections – corresponding to the ordinary of the Latin mass. Bach Collegium Japan perform the piece with trim forces – with one voice per part, or 18 singers and 11 strings – but grandeur is never sacrificed. With the right sound engineering and spacious tempos, it all gives the impression of a massive musical edifice.

Murray Perahia plays Bach Keyboard Concertos

 5. Murray Perahia, keyboard and conductor
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Sony Classical
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Bach's Keyboard Concertos are performed on a variety of equipment – harpsichords, modern grands and everything in between. Pianist Murray Perahia staked his claim firmly in the modern-instrument camp, teaming up with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to record the seven concertos, plus the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; the Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord; and the solo "Italian" Concerto. In 2011, Sony re-released these on a 3-CD set, which was a WQXR Album of the Week. There’s a sharp rhythmic profile and textural clarity in much of Perahia’s Bach playing, from the subtle variations of articulation in the D major concerto to the breathtakingly clean trills and runs in the F major. Never shy when it comes to embellishment, Perahia seizes every opportunity.

 

Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski popularized Bach with his grand transcriptions

4. Stokowski Orchestral Transcriptions
Jose Serebrier, conductor
Bournemouth Symphony
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Nobody today could mistake Leopold Stokowski's sensuous and colorful arrangements of Bach's airs, fugues and passacaglias for the genuine articles. The conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra was the ultimate over-the-top arranger, applying his famously lush sound on compositions written for organ, harpsichord or voices. Today, they're making somewhat of a comeback, especially among musicians who feel less constrained by the innovations of the period-instrument movement. Jose Serebrier, a former assistant to Stokowski during the 1960s, recorded this collection of Stoki's Bach transcriptions with the Bournemouth Symphony in 2006. Included is the mighty Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor and lush favorites like Sheep May Safely Graze.

 

Collegium Vocale Ghent

3. Easter Oratorio & Ascension Oratorio
Philippe Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Ghent
Harmonia Mundi
Available at Arkivmusic.com

With 200 cantatas or so in the repertoire, there’s no real obvious starting place for the listener faced with Bach’s vast choral output. One starting-point is the choral music he wrote for the Easter season: not only did he write a glorious Easter Oratorio, but also several cantatas and an Ascension Oratorio, among other pieces. This collection containing the three "Trinity" cantatas and the two big oratorios, works of theatrical force and wide textural variety (though being reflective in nature, they don't tell a direct story). In this 1993 recording, Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe conducts his Belgian forces including several fine soloists. Most of all, they recognize that clarity is key to allowing Bach’s arias, chorales and recitatives speak with potency and inspiration and every section carries the music’s message with zeal.

2. Motets

Bach Motets - Academy of Ancient Music Berlin, RIAS Chamber Choir

Academy of Ancient Music Berlin, RIAS Chamber Choir
Rene Jacobs, conductor
Harmonia Mundi
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Although not nearly as well-known as the Passions and the oratorios, Bach's six motets held a unique place in the composer's output. They were commissioned for specific public and private occasions such as Der Geist bilft unser Schwacchheit auf, for the "Funeral of the late Prof. and Rector Ernesti." Written for four, five, and eight voices, they are intricate, demanding works and feature a range of rhetorical and text-setting devices: Descending chromatic lines match the soul's lament; unruly bass lines "rage . . . and riot" along with the world. Although some scholars have said that the motets should be sung without orchestral accompaniment, current assumptions are that Bach used continuo instruments at the very least. The Academy of Ancient Music Berlin together with the RIAS Chamber Choir recorded these very effectively in the 1990s with conductor Rene Jacobs.

Glenn Gould at his debut recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, 1955

 1. Glenn Gould: A State of Wonder - Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981)
Sony

Available at Arkivmusic.com

Gould’s recording debut in 1955 of the Goldberg Variations took the world by storm – it was reported to have sold 40,000 copies by 1960, and had sold more than 100,000 by the time of Gould's death in 1982. His decidedly un-Romantic and highly personal approach presented Bach's keyboard music in a startling new way. Then in 1981 – reportedly at the urging of his record label – Gould revisited the Goldbergs and delivered a new interpretation far more introspective, with more deliberate phrasing and ornamentation. Both versions have their considerable merits, as you told us in our poll:

In 1968, Gould spoke with record producer John McClure about dropping out of concert life and focusing on the studio. Listen to the interview here:

 

Note: This article was original published November 1, 2014.

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Comments [28]

Jody Wise from New Jersey

Might I suggest the remarkable recording of the Goldberg Variations with pianist Igor Levit?

Mar. 25 2017 06:06 PM
Steve W.

Correction: the Andras Schiff/English Suites recording is on Decca, not Sony.

Mar. 23 2017 12:33 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

correction: Julius Baker plays the flute solo in Bach's Suite No. 2 in b minor with Stokowski and his orchestra; it's not the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. The record number is LM-1176 on RCA Victor. I hope it has been re-released on a CD.

Mar. 22 2017 02:21 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

I would add two recorded performances from the mid-20th Century that the purists would avoid and one that I believe they would not but I consider nonpareil from the standpoint of beauty of execution. First is an RCA Victor vinyl recording with Stokowski conducting "His Symphony Orchestra" (many of whose principals were with the New York Philharmonic) including the Little Fugue in g minor, the Great Fugue, Jesu' Joy of Man's Desiring and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 with Julius Baker as soloist. My second is the Brandenburg Concertos recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch, on RCA Victor. The recordings of the "Well-Tempered Clavier" with Wanda Landowska, also on RCA Victor, complete my choices.

Mar. 21 2017 02:52 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha,NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Every singer and instrumentalist should experience the uplift singing or playiing Bach.
His joy and high spirits are everywhere in his music. That he was also a happy family man with children who carried on his musical tradition with great success. BACH is as great as one may reasonably expect given the scenario of minor talents now. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer; "Shakespeare' and "The Political Shakespeare," and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My 6 websites carry my 37 out of the over 100 selections of my singing four three-hour-long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, of Carnegie Hall. They may be downloaded FREE at Recorded Selections. www.WagnerOpera.com

Nov. 19 2014 06:38 PM
Constantine from New York

I do not object to hearing Bach's (or anyone else's) harpsichord works on the piano (bravo, Murray Perahia; brava, Angela Hewitt) -- or on the kazoo, if well done, but can't we hear them on the harpsichord occasionally? It has its own, quite different, timbre that is worth hearing. (In fact, an advantage it has over the piano is that it actually has several timbres!) Whoever programs this station seems bound and determined to kill this instrument except in ensembles.

Nov. 19 2014 04:45 PM

Just to add to other's opinions. Yes, if Bach had the instruments we have today he would probably have written for them. However, he would have written differently or entirely different music. I cannot stress enough how badly his keyboard music comes across when performed on instruments other than what they were written for. You wouldn't (I hope) want to hear the Swingle Singers do the b minor mass, I don't think. Maybe some would??? The pianoforte was just being invented at the end of Bach's life and when he tried them out he didn't like them, so methinks his works for harpsichord should be played on a harpsichord. Also, the organ works always sound best when played on the organ, and preferrably a pipe organ, not some imitation electronic organ or keyboard. Just MHO.

Nov. 12 2014 12:36 PM

Nice to see the Swingle Singers getting their due.

I am NOT a helden ...

DD~~

Nov. 12 2014 01:08 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Like Shakespeare, JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, had such comprehensive vision of the world he knew and such an imagination and compositional virtuosity to reach deep into many formats and get his message across. MOZART, BEETHOVEN and WAGNER IMHO are the only other musical geniuses that may still be as BACH widely played and appreciated one hundred years from now. Great as BACH was/is each composer has his/her own style and format and content so it is not appropriate to claim the top of the totem pole to any one great composer, no matter how great. I am partial to RICHARD WAGNER because his music most touchest both my personal and professional life. But Mozart, Beethoven, Bellini, Verdi, Puccini, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Gounod, Massenet, Giordano, Schubert, Arnold Schonberg, Brahms, Richard and Johann Strauss, Bizet, Meyerbeer and Hugo Wolf all have legitimate claims on my leisure as well as professional life. Ask a mother or father who their favorite child is if they have more than one and one will see it is not that easy to marginalize one's preferences. ALL deserve our attention and respect. There will always be time and devotion cheerfully dedicated to the presentation of this great master's ouevre. The test of time is virtually always the most respected judgment on the preciousness of anything. BACH's music has met that test. JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH is one of the great titanic geniuses of music and his music and its influence will be forever with us no matter what the current fads that will turn up as certainly as day follows night. SIngers and instrumentalists and music lovers all clamor for more BACH. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"], teacher of voice production and I train and coach big-voiced singers in the Wagner rep and actors in the Shakespeare oeuvre. www.WagnerOpera.com

Nov. 11 2014 08:51 PM
Carol Luparella from Garfield, NJ

WQXR, thank you for broadcasting the Bach B minor Mass this evening. It was wonderful to hear this work in its entirety!

Nov. 10 2014 09:58 PM
Carol Luparella from Garfield, NJ

WQXR, your post says: "Today: a special broadcast of Bach's Mass in B minor." What time will that be?

Nov. 10 2014 10:30 AM
SARAH from PHILLY

YOU ASKED THE OTHER DAY ABOUT TRANSCRIPTION OF BACH'S MUSIC. I DON'T MIND IF DONE WELL. BUT I THINK THE WORD "INTERPRETATION" WOULD BE BETTER. BECAUSE UNLESS YOU ARE A SERIOUS MUSICIAN YOU PROBABLY WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE IT AS BACH. AS FOR 1/2 THE ORCHESTRA LEAVING SO THE REMAINDER STAY TO PLAY BACH SEEMS KIND OF SILLY. ESPECIALLY SINCE MODERN INSTRUMENTS DON'T REPRODUCE THE SOUND.

MY ARGUMENT FOR ORIGINAL INSTRUMENTS IS THAT, IF BACH WAS ALIVE TODAY HE WOULD WRITE DIFFERENT MUSIC THAT WOULD WORK FOR THE INSTRUMENTS AND CULTURE OF HIS TIME.

BUT THE ONE THING I HATE IS HARPSICHORD OR CLAVIER MUSIC PLAYED ON A PIANO. IT TAKES SO LIGHT, INTELLECTUAL AND CHEERFUL SOUND AND TURNS INTO SOMETHING HEAVY AND MECHANICAL SOUNDING. IF A PIANIST WANTS TO PLAY BACH ON THE PIANO THEN ADAPT THE MUSIC TO THE INSTRUMENT. A HARPSICHORD IS A STRING INSTRUMENT AND THE PIANO A PERCUSSION INSTRUMENT SO THE WORK NEEDS ADJUSTMENT. EVERY TIME I HEAR GLEN GOULD'S GOLDBERG VARIATIONS IMAGES OF FACTORY MACHINERY SPINNING BOTTLE AND FILLING THEM THEN PUSHING THEM ALONG OR THOSE 19TH CENTURY AUTOMATONS SITTING IN THEIR GLASS BOXES PERFORMING SOME HUMAN ACTIVITY.

I HAVEN'T HEARD ANY OF WANDA LANDOWSKA'S PIECES PLAYED OR ANY HARPSICHORD MUSIC OR LITTLE MUSIC PLAYED ON PERIOD INSTRUMENTS. I WOULD THINK IF YOU WANT TO CELEBRATE BACK YOU WOULD PLAY WHAT HE HEARD.

Nov. 07 2014 04:27 PM
Sarah E from The Bronx

Nice. Very Nice. I like that some of the work played are sung by altos and countenors. So many of the music played even if written for alto is done by mezzos. Two, for next November, let do a Handel/Haydn throw-down.

Thank You.

Nov. 06 2014 06:30 PM
Arnold VICTOR from NYC

I prefer Rosalind Tureck to Gould. I think his 1981 recording may have owed its rethinking to such versions as hers. His 1955 was a bravura performance, unprecedented and impressive, but not definitive,

Nov. 06 2014 04:43 PM

>>s it possible you could play for us Daniel Sullivan's arrangement for organ of Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations?<<

DD: Hold on, hold on, wait a minute!!! We already have orchestra versions of organ music and piano versions of organ music. We have people who don't like harpsichord (or klavier?) music played on the piano, and now you want harpsichord (klavier?) music on the organ?

What's next? An ocarina version of "Air on a G String?"

This isn't Bachstock; it's play anything Bach wrote any way you want to without any regard to Bach. Sheesh!

Nov. 05 2014 07:43 PM

On any given section, I'm for the one with less off-pitch humming.

Couldn't you give us the option to download the 20 cuts of music WITHOUT the accompanying lectures? How many times would anyone want to listen to any one of them?

The All-Bach Channel began on Nov.3rd. Since it's supposed to be 30 days of non-stop Bach, does that mean that it will continue through Dec. 2nd? Or, o please, is there any hope of the All-Bach Channel remaining permanently? That would truly improve the quality of life!

Nov. 04 2014 04:14 PM
Carl Bredlau from NJ

As much as I am always impressed with Gould's virtuosity, I prefer to listen quietly to Rosalyn Tureck's interpretation. It's on a 2 CD set (that also contains the score so that you can follow along and hear all the repeats).

Nov. 03 2014 06:12 PM
Heather Walters from Brooklyn

Is it possible you could play for us Daniel Sullivan's arrangement for organ of Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations?

Nov. 03 2014 05:41 PM
Jed Distler from New York

Much as the 1955 version excites on the surface, I much prefer Gould's 1981 remake for its consistent point of view and systematic approach to repeats and tempi. That said, I prefer Murray Perahia's piano recording for its greater textural variety (especially in the cross-handed variations), wider range of nuance and tone color, imaginative yet never obtrusive ornaments, and full observation of the repeats, save for the Aria da capo.

Nov. 03 2014 03:24 PM
John Blasdale from Whippany NJ

I am not a fan of Glenn Gould; even less am I a fan of Bach on the piano, of which we hear far, far too much on WQXR. If there were a third choice, a performance by a first-class harpsichordist, I would have chosen that (I did not vote).
I do not plan to listen; rather practise some Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms on the piano.

Nov. 03 2014 10:52 AM
Victor S. from West Orange, NJ

My choice is 1981 recording. While I certainly admire 1955, 1981 is much closer to my personal personal perception of life at the given time. Unfortunately, even WQXR does not mention 1954 CBC live broadcast (http://www.amazon.com/Glenn-Gould-Goldberg-Variations-Broadcast/dp/B002QVRWBQ), which I find more interesting, than 1955.

Nov. 03 2014 08:51 AM
Milton Cohen from United States

Why not play side-by-side comparisons of the two versions for selected variations? The comparison would dramatize how Gould's thinking about the work had evolved over the decades.

Nov. 02 2014 10:55 AM

Gotta say both as well.
The first sparkles, is breathtaking with his brilliance, it picks you up and simply carries you whirling off into the stratosphere.
The second - i first heard one day in the background somewhere barely audible & hotly contested no way that's Gould, lol. When i finally learned of the new recording I cried all the way through my first listening. This was a coming to terms with an old friend, nothing left to prove and a deep understanding which became all the more heartbreaking when he died soon afterwards.
So fitting that he also proclaimed the recording era - keeping him with us forever. Is there even any musician who's had so many different documentaries done on him? We were and are so blessed.

Nov. 01 2014 03:59 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ


GLENN GOULD was as mentioned by many who have heard him as a PHENOMENON !!! His concern that performing in public would be as distraction to him is greatly at odds to the attitude of most performers, myself included. As LEE STRASBERG told me after my class presentation of OTHELLO'S DEATH SCENE in the original SHAKESPEARE version, not the VERDI opera, in one of his classes, that the venue and the audience and all the circumstances may add to the performance if the spontaneity of taking all the factors into consideration results in a brand new concept and its processing for the audience. GLENN GOULD's personality and passion for getting to the essence of what he played whether that was the composer's intention or not, it was what GLENN determined it to be. Artists in the aural and pictorial fields often change what they feel about their subject matter. That does not mean that their earlier impressions were wrong, but onjy that they may be different. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"], teacher of voice production and train and coach big-voiced singers in the Wagner rep and actors in the Shakespeare oeuvre. www.WagnerOpera.com

Nov. 01 2014 12:02 PM
HYH from Freeport, LI

I love and still listen to both versions but, more often I listen to the 1981 version. The later version contains so much emotion and beauty in addition to the technical fireworks. As often as I listen to it, I continue to be enthralled and still find 'new' things in his interpretation. Certainly, Gould's eccentric nature added to the popularity but, at the end of the day -- I believe the success truly comes down to the performance. I've listened to and enjoyed several other performers' versions -- it is a tremendous piece of music -- but I love Gould's. Both versions.

Nov. 01 2014 11:09 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I'm one who favors the 1955 recording if only because it shows Mr. Gould in the "full flush of youth". Admittedly and quite naturally, there is more profundity in the 1981 recording, but I'll stick by my guns. CORRECTION: I must point out that the interview supposedly of Mr. Gould and Tim Page isn't: it's the Columbia Masterworks interview originally released on LP, catalog number BS 15 entitled "Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout In Conversation with John McClure". If anyone reading my post hasn't already heard it, by all means DO listen to it anyway, because it's a revealing portrait of this genius on many topics that was recorded in 1964. I certainly would love to hear the Tim Page interview as heard on WNYC, especially since Mr. Page edited and wrote the introduction for the book "The Glenn Gould Reader".

Nov. 01 2014 09:45 AM
Christopher Hosford from Bronx, NY

1981 definitely, in my opinion. The first recording was finger-proud and justifiably so, but because of that it feels superficial. I think it's outsized success was due, first, to its unique approach -- Bach up to then was filtered through a Stowkowski lens (I use the term generically), and there is nothing wrong with that, but that approach is decidedly non-acerbic. Gould overturned that in 1955. It also was startling since Bach was hardly a concert or recording staple, and Gould made it so. And lastly, its success was due to Gould's own oddities. Remember Szell's comment: "That nut is a genius." That image caught on among the music-loving public, and helped boost record sales. By 1981, all this was history and we (and Gould himself) could relax and experience the Goldberg's profundities, not just its glitter. Gould was older, wiser, more relaxed, and tempered by life. The new version takes its time, breathes, and lives in the silences. To me, it is much the more moving experience.

Nov. 01 2014 04:34 AM
Joel from Brooklyn

I love both versions but only the '55 is a joy from first note to last. That said, I wouldn't want to be without the profundeurs—might be coining a word there—of the later performance. Profunnderurs of extraordinary depth, I should say.

Nov. 01 2014 04:03 AM

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