Best Recordings of Bach?
April 24, 2005 8:46 PM   Subscribe

What recordings of Bach are considered essential? Which ones do you think are the best?
posted by ori to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Michael Murray's recording of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor is essential.

The Ormandy orchestration with the Philadelphia Orchestra is also an essential, but has been out of print for years (last time I checked). It may have been reissued recently.
posted by Captaintripps at 8:55 PM on April 24, 2005

Response by poster: (Bonus points for a Goldberg Variations recommendation.)
posted by ori at 9:04 PM on April 24, 2005

Best answer: Classical.Net has some suggestions.
posted by schroedinger at 9:15 PM on April 24, 2005

Goldberg Variations?

Glenn Gould! Who else?

call me BachSnob ;)
posted by seawallrunner at 9:16 PM on April 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

seriously, if you are looking for a classic interpretation of Bach's work on the piano, look no further than Glenn Gould. You can't hear him hum no matter how loud you play the pieces, and they are a wonder to behold.

Canadian Brass, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields have excellent interpretations of Bach's other works - I'm away from my music collection at the moment, otherwise I'd provide examples. write me at gmail and I'll tell you more when I get back.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2005

If you want an alternative to Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, you should also try Murray Perahia's version. It's also excellent.
posted by gyc at 9:27 PM on April 24, 2005

I love the keyboard stuff, as long as it's not played on harpsichord (God ! I hate that instrument). It is formally perfect, and feels as though its comes from God's mouth to my ear. My favorite interpreter of Bach's major solo keyboard works is Andras Schiff, but of course opinions will vary. The essential works, to me, are:

The Well Tempered Clavier
The Two- and Three-Part Inventions
The Goldberg Variations

The Cello Suites are also lovely. Magnatune has three different recordings of these that you can stream for free to see if you like them.

I hope you enjoy these.
posted by curtm at 9:54 PM on April 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Though I don't own it, Pablo Casals' recording of the Solo Cello Suites is generally held up as the definitive recording of the Cello Suites. I own Yo Yo Ma's recording, which I love, as well as Edgar Meyer's arrangement of the Cello Suites for the double bass. I would recommend the latter to anyone with an interest in the bass, though it might not be a canonical version.

As you can tell, I love Bach's cello suites and would recommend a recording of them. When I can find a spare year or three, I'll be working on recording them for the pedal steel.

Also worth mentioning is that the 12-string guitar part to the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn" is Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
posted by stet at 9:55 PM on April 24, 2005

Best answer: The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music.
"In 100 original essays, Times classical music critic, Allan Kozinn offers the ultimate collector's guide, a rich chronicle of the composers and performers who stir our souls. Kozinn takes you through the core repertory of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. . ."
posted by mlis at 10:13 PM on April 24, 2005

The Gardiner recording of the B Minor Mass on Archiv is very good, in my opinion. The same label also makes a good St. John Passion.
posted by tss at 10:33 PM on April 24, 2005

I really like my Mstislav Rostropovich version of the cello suites. I also have the 1983 Yo-yo Ma version of the same, but I prefer the Rostropovich. There's a newer Yo-yo Ma version released a few years ago which is supposed to be good but I can't vouch for it personally.
posted by mexican at 12:51 AM on April 25, 2005

Also worth mentioning is that the 12-string guitar part to the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn" is Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Huh? I don't hear it. Leo Kottke, however, did a stellar interpretation of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", most recently (and best) on Six and Twelve String Guitar

Bach would have groked the twelve string guitar.
posted by eriko at 4:30 AM on April 25, 2005

Keep in mind that Glenn Gould has two different recordings of the Goldberg Variations. The 1955 version is great, and made Gould famous. The 1981 version is... well, let's say it's more eccentric. Some people love it, some people hate it. (I fall into the latter category--I HATE the way Gould hums and sings along as he plays.) If you want to go all out, there is a 3-CD set that includes both versions, as well as a third CD of outtakes. Personally, I'd just stick with his 1955 recording.

Generally speaking, you can't go wrong with Andras Schiff. His recordings of the English Suites and French Suites are wonderful.

For the Brandenburg Concerti, I really like a recording done by Il Giardino Harmonico, although many people felt it was too fast in some parts and that the horns in the first concerto were too blatty. (Hey, I loved the blatty horns. What can I say?) For a more conventional approach, I liked Sir Neville Mariner's recording on LP, but I haven't heard the CD so I don't know how well it was remastered.
posted by yankeefog at 5:33 AM on April 25, 2005

Oh, and I normally hate transcriptions that radically reinvision Bach--like those awful orchestral versions of his organ works--but there are two transcriptions that I do like.

First is The Swingle Singer's Jazz Sebastian Bach, featuring cheerful, jazzy acapella versions of various Bach pieces. It certainly won't be to everybody's taste, but a quick listen to the samples at should make it pretty clear if it's to yours.

Second, I've always found the solo violin works very hard to listen to, since the solo violin is such an austere instrument. I much prefer Paul Galbraith's guitar transcription. As the reviews indicate, this is not the most passionate Bach performance, but I find it rewards careful listening.
posted by yankeefog at 5:41 AM on April 25, 2005

The Art of the Fugue on harpsichord rocks my world! Perhaps it will rock yours too?
posted by ibeji at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2005

Hilary Hahn on the violin concertos, Arthur Grumiaux on violin partitas. Nth Gould on piano pieces, especially keyboard concertos. I kinda like his humming, actually - don't advocate people doing it, but it adds a sort of humanity to otherwise starkly flawless music. But if it annoys, then go listen to Richter. <3 Richter.
posted by casarkos at 6:50 AM on April 25, 2005

Gould's English Suites were a revelation for me, and personally I vote for his 1981 Goldberg. For something different, try Wanda Landowska on harpsichord or Rosalyn Tureck for Goldberg, too. Andras Schiff is my favorite for Preludes and Fugues.

Make sure you get a recording of the Art of Fugue, Bach's last composition (he died while writing it and it just trails off unfinished), and probably his crowning achievement in fugue. There's an inexpensive Philips double CD pairing great performances of the Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering by St. Martin in the Fields. Here's a link with some more good ideas:
posted by xammerboy at 7:32 AM on April 25, 2005

It may be out of fashion but I love Itzhak Perlman's version of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.
posted by gwint at 9:11 AM on April 25, 2005

Angela Hewitt is also well-respected for her Bach piano recordings. She's recorded pretty much everything except Art of the Fugue.

Speaking of which ... my favorite Art of the Fugue is by Bernard Labadie and Les Violins du Roy. I heard it on the radio while driving and patiently waited to hear who it was by so that I could buy it.

If you like the keyboard concertos performed on piano, Andras Schiff's recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is wonderful.

The last link reminds me that you might want to persue the J.S. Bach Home Page, which includes reviews of recordings.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:58 AM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Another vote here for Gould, 'The Well-Tempered Clavier' is the best by far. Goldberg is ok but I find it pretty boring, I mean it wasn't really written to be music, more like musical exercises.
posted by Cosine at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2005

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