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4.6 out of 5 stars
Bach: Well Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Fortunate we are in Los Angeles that András Schiff has honored us with his inimitable performances of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Books I and II. The first evening he performed Book I and next week he will open us through Book II. But this luxury is available to all music lovers now that Schiff has recorded this massive work for the second time (the first recording was in 1990 and though many still hold it as the gold standard, it pales in comparison to this new approach that in many ways is a revelation).

Schiff declines to use the sustaining pedal and instead focuses his playing on the physical challenges of this massive work, leaving all the keyboard unblured by the erasing contraption. How he manages to make the work flow so naturally from each prelude and fugue - one in each key, major and minor - and still maintain the overall beauty of spirituality over the obvious precision of this technique is simply something that must be heard to believe.

Schiff plays every note as Bach wrote it and yet despite this masterful clarity of execution he is able to impose a sweetness of tone and an obvious devotion to the inner spirit of the concept Bach manifests when his works are played with such mastery. Some pianists tend to treat these Books as epic challenges to master - more marathons than works of art. There is not a moment while hearing Schiff accompanying the listener through this masterpiece that fails to respect and speak to the spirit of Bach's (and music's) genius, transporting us to another holier place. This CD set, this unqualified phenomenon of creativity and artistry, is not to be missed. It is brilliant, it is cleansing, and it is an overwhelming spiritual journey. Grady Harp, October 12
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2013
The Good:
This is one of the most beautiful interpretations of "The Well-Tempered Clavier" I've ever heard. I absolutely agree with the superlatives written by other reviewers: Schiff's playing is elegant, balanced, relaxed, thoughtful, joyful, meditative, airy, and almost perfect. One minor criticism: in my opinion Schiff unnecessarily tones down pain, sadness and passion that I feel is appropriate for a few pieces (e.g. in Prelude in B flat minor, BWV 867; track 19 on Disc 2), erring instead on the side of lightness. However, I love his interpretative choices in more than 90% of the tracks, so this is basically nitpicking. I give five stars to Schiff, but since I'm reviewing a product, I have to subtract one star for a nearly fatal flaw in the recording as discussed below.

The Bad:
There is WAY too much reverb in the recording! I don't know if the reverberation is natural or added in post-processing, but I find it almost unbearable. It "cathedralizes" this music and it is jarringly at odds with its inherent intimacy and intricate polyphony. In the interviews Andras Schiff emphasized not using the sustain pedal while recording in order to increase the clarity of the counterpoint. I hate to say it, but the "permanent sustain" of the long reverb effectively obliterates most of the fine detail he worked so hard to convey. Did the recording engineer take the 'Well" in "The Well-Tempered Clavier" literally? I sure sounds like it's coming from a pretty deep well... I am angry about this because the flawed recording prevents me from listening to Schiff's performance as much as I'd like to. What a waste!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is pure music, sheer genius. Schiff plays it that way, without frills or augmentation. He is a consummate musician. These exercises for as young musician -who could imagine a fledgling musician playing pieces this difficult today?--are consummate music, like flowing water, melodic and rhythmic, alternating simple starts with complex follow-up. Both the first and the second sets of this collection, written at different times, consist of preludes followed by fugues related by the key in which they are played. Paired pieces progress from one key to the next until the harmonic cycle is done with. (A modern exercise in the same is Vladimir Ashkenazy's recording of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues.)

Bach's compositions were written not for piano but for clavichord but adjustments like Schiff's as to instrument were common even in Bach's time. Bach wrote in a time when no keyboard instrument had damper pedals. Sustaining a note and damping sound were a matter of how adroit the performer was with the pressure of his fingers on the keys. Schiff respects that. He admits to using pedals discretely in one piece which, he argues, was originally composed for organ, and thus needs the sustained line use of the damping pedal ensures. For the rest, he uses pedals to spread notes but rarely and lightly, relying instead on touch on the keyboard.

Schiff is a brilliant pianist, who has shown earlier his affinity with Bach. This album -four CDs--all of both books of Clavier--is exquisite. Listening to it is like entering a new, rarified world.

The recording is by ECM so of course it's crystal clear. I know of no other label, not even Deutsche Grammophon, that pays as close attention to the quality of the sound in its recording.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
First, the thought of yet another version of the Well Tempered Clavier in my collection seemed not merely unnecessary, but truly pointless. But how wrong I was, and how delighted I am with this magnificent performance and production. It is clear, crisp, and unslurred by the artificial colorings of the pedal. The musicality of it comes through definitively and liltingly. It stands head and shoulders above the other recordings I have. I will never come to the point, as Andras Schiff has, of being able to play this set of four CDs from memory(!), but I will definitely be listening to it far more than the others I have. A lifetime of practicing has paid off stunningly for Andras Schiff. This is a real accomplishment, and makes this precious achievement of Bach's all the more eternal. His feet may be flat on the floor, but his fingers are dancing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2013
I have long had Schiff's earlier recording of the WTC (among many others) and can readily compare this new recording with his earlier effort. The previous recording always struck me as quite competent but not so interesting as several others. His new recording is a different kettle of fish! His approach is more varied, with a lot of variety resulting from a wide range of tempi, touch, and so forth. His lack of use of the pedal works very well for him; the music is neither dry nor clipped, but nicely articulated. And he separates the musical lines superbly. Overall, this version is more energetic and interesting than his earlier one. The generally faster tempos in the quick pieces add the spice of virtuosity, which is not really apparent as such but merely as an amazing ease and fluidity. And in the slower pieces, like the C-sharp minor fugue in Book 1, Schiff delivers the goods with absolute assurance.

Most of all, he is simply musical...to the extreme. In fact, it's hard to say it more clearly than he plays this music really REALLY well! This is a fantastic recording, and the piano sound is immediate and clean.

This goes to the top of my pile of WTC for the piano, along with Gould. Gould, of course, is irritating and astonishing at the same time. Schiff is more "normal" if that's the right word, but he just plays these beautifully and (thank God) doesn't sing along. I can't recommend this recording more highly.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2012
Schiff's artistry on the keyboard is legendary and I couldn't ask for a better performance. The thing that kept me from giving the recording 5 stars is that the engineers left no space between the tracks, causing each piece of music to run into the next. There really needs to be a short respite between pieces. I will have to re-record these discs and insert a two second gap between the pieces.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2013
I have difficulty summing up what I felt about this highly-marketed release by Andras Schiff. It's honest and there's a consistent aesthetic point of view applied between each pair of preludes and fugues. This, for me, makes it a nice "reference recording," one you can always come back to.

An apt comparison is the set by Edward Aldwell; I think Schiff's is better. Compared to Jarrett's book 1 on ECM, this is much better. But I also like the idea of using Bach's music to inject a little creativity into the performance. Fredrich Gulda, therefore, is a favorite of mine on piano. Schiff's own nuances are far more subtle, but they are there, at least in enough of the performances.

That's why I'd say they are, as as set, short of profound... instead they're honest, well-done, and well-captured.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 2, 2013
András Schiff recorded most of Bach's keyboard works in the 1980s, and has recently made a number of new recordings for ECM. This box set of the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier is his latest such release, and shows Schiff as a much more mature pianist. Making a point of using the pedal as little as possible, Schiff delineates all the contrapuntal lines in the fugues carefully, and plays the preludes with zest and brio. In some ways, Schiff plays a Gouldian style here; hardly any legato, and a very percussive style.

But Schiff doesn't fall into Gould's excesses, presenting each prelude and fugue as a carefully polished gem. Not using the sustaining pedal helps give this impression of separation between notes - as one hears more on a harpsichord - which highlights the rhythms of the pieces. His ornamentation is subtle and limited, but one gets the feeling that it is just right.

Over time, listening through these four discs, I found that Schiff's style - which at first seemed just a bit jarring - made more and more sense. The music here can be lively or pensive, and Schiff takes all of its moods and provides an approach that stands on its own. Comparing it with pianists who use the pedal show a very large difference, but comparing it with harpsichord recordings offers more similarities than differences, in spite of the very different sounds of the instruments.

The recording is excellent; the piano sounds rich and full, with no reverb to mar the details, or to drown out the subtleties of the counterpoint.

This is a fine recording of Bach's great preludes and fugues, one that even those hesitant to listen to the work on modern piano should seek out.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2013
Talk about monumental! I was totally blown away by the command, clarity , creativity, and mastery displayed in the Well Tempered Clavier by Andras Schiff. I own a previous version of Schiff's WTC along with interpretations by Richter, Hewitt, Tureck, and, of course, Gould, all of which I've listened to religiously, and I think Schiff's new rendition just may be the most pleasant of the bunch, and the one I seem reach for most, when I need my Bach fix. Given that it's much newer than other recordings of the 48, the sound engineering is leaps and bounds ahead of others in the pack. You won't regret owning this timeless treasure!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2012
Best yet. I have 7 recordings of the Well Tempered Clavier -- and this is my favorite. It's so cleanly played. To me, not using the pedal helps bring out all the lines of counterpoint. And he plays the whole recording from memory. Amazing.
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