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.
It’s now time for a release with the famous German organist Helmut Walcha. This is the first of initially 4 releases with Walcha playing J. S. Bach. He recorded the complete works by J. S. Bach twice, from 1947-1950 in mono on the Schnitger organ in Cappel and in St. Jakobi in Lübeck and 1956-1971 on the famous organ in Alkmaar. This release is from the Alkmaar serie and is therefore in stereo. A quite interesting thing is to compare it with the IHORC14 release, where Fernando Germani plays the exact same organ about two years later…
The appeal of this release hinges more on its sound quality than on the quality of its well-known and excellent performances. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound very good. One can more or less hear Richter – details of articulation occasionally get lost, inner voices are sometimes obscured, and bigger sonorities are often opaque – but he sounds like he's miles away. One can hear Sanderling and the USSR Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra only faintly when they're quiet, somewhat better when they're louder, and all too well when they're really loud. There have been better releases of these recordings in the past – many listeners prefer the 1995 BMG-Melodiya issues – and there will likely be better releases in the future. This one's not worth it except for Richter specialists who have to have every release of every performance Richter ever recorded.
Barbara Bonney's recital of the Schumanns' songs is prefaced, in the booklet-note, with a little feminist homily from the singer defending the reputation of Clara as woman and artist. Clara hardly needs that kind of defence nowadays, witness recent CDs by Skovhus and Stutzmann, plus several others not reviewed in these pages; her songs are far from patronized, let alone neglected. Yet, for all the advocacy of these singers, her inspiration remains for me intermittent, though thoroughly conventional songs are occasionally leavened by notably individual ones, such as, here, her very last and unpublished song, Loreley, which vividly conjures up that dangerous creature, particu lady in the hectic piano part, evocatively played by Ashkenazy. Indeed it seems that Heine most inspired her, as "Sic liebten sich beide" from her Op. 13 provoked a setting of economically intense meaning, to which Bonney finely responds.– Gramophone [9/1997].