There's nothing at all wrong with Maurizio Pollini's 2009 performance of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The Italian pianist's intellectual lucidity, interpretive clarity, and technical virtuosity are apparent in every prelude and fugue, and his probing insights and penetrating analysis inform every note. However, there is almost nothing right with the sound quality of the recording. The piano sounds too distant, making it hard to hear precisely what Pollini is doing, but oddly, the ambient sound is too present, making every extraneous noise too loud. One should not hear the pedals being pressed and lifted, much less the clatter of the hammers and the twanging of the strings above the sound of the music. Worse yet, one can hear what sounds like every breath Pollini takes nearly as loudly as every note he plays. These are all grievous flaws that should have been eliminated, and their presence fatally undermines the brilliance of Pollini's performances. A reengineered version of these performances would be most welcome, but the present recording is so flawed that it virtually destroys Pollini's playing.
Although not quite at the level of profundity of his teacher Gustav Leonhardt's recording, Kenneth Gilbert's 1983 recording of Book 1 of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier does have a style and polish that Leonhardt's too often lacked. Thus, while Leonhardt goes further into some of the minor-key fugues to find intellectual and spiritual depths that Gilbert does not plumb, Gilbert's playing is so much more elegant and graceful than Leonhardt's that it is difficult to choose between them. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of virtuoso works whose success depends on the effortless refinement of the player, the Gilbert, with its superbly remastered sound, will be the one to get. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of prayers written as preludes and fugues, the Leonhardt will be preferable. Both are superb and both belong in any Bach collection.
Mozart, who composed 21 piano concerti, can be regarded as the “inventor” of the popular piano concerto. Although J.S. Bach and his son had written numerous concerti for harpsichord or fortepiano and orchestra before him, Mozart’s enormous input to the genre is mostly due to his concerti being regarded as ‘popular music’ by his contemporaries: to be enjoyed and quickly replaced by newer works. For this series on four DVDs, the most influential, the most artistically challenging and the most popular piano concerti have been selected to be performed by the best Mozart interpreters of our time. Volume I features pianists Mitsuko Uchida, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Homero Francesch each performing a concerto representing a different stage in Mozart's life. The performances on this DVD were shot in highly attractive baroque venues – at the Mozarteum, Salzburg, in Hampton Court Palace, London and in the Christian-Zais-Saal, Wiesbaden – capturing the atmosphere of a performance in Mozart’s lifetime.
Deus Passus is one quarter of the Passion Project 2000, which celebrated not only the turning of the millennium but also commemorated the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. German conductor Helmuth Rilling honored this occasion by commissioning Passions from four disparate composers: Wolfgang Rihm, Tan Dun, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Osvaldo Golijov. Deus Passus is a setting of the Passion according to St. Luke, and it is a marvel of a piece for many reasons. For a full hour and a half, with music that is mostly slow and largely atonal (in the sense that Berg’s music is atonal), the twisting, aching, unpredictable harmonies are totally captivating. Rihm chooses a straightforward setting, a simple, dramatic telling of the story, and it is in his capacity for restraint that the true brilliance of the piece lies. He uses the chorus sparingly, mostly for dramatic purposes, having it portray the angry rabble bent on crucifying Jesus (as it often does in Bach’s passions).