Early Music Recording Lists

J.S. Bach

This is probably the least interesting list here for most readers, although I have had a few inquiries as to my preferences. All I am going to do is list my current favorite performances of Bach's music. Opinions of a true Bach enthusiast should probably carry greater relative weight, after all.

The first-level decision here is whether I am interested in a particular composition at all. In many cases, for instance, the vocal works or concertos, I am not. I would not consider myself an exponent of Bach, although what with the relative discographies, it is certainly easier to find quality interpretations of his music than it is for composers of more inherent interest to me. To be frank, the more familiar I become with earlier music, the less interested I become in Bach. His primary skill is counterpoint, and the previous centuries more than subsume it.

The listed performances are all excellent, of that I can assure you, although other people have their own preferences. I am only going to list one recording of each set. I'll also give some number of stars as an overall rating, just to be in parallel with the other lists where the ratings are more meaningful.

Generally speaking, the keyboard music is the most interesting to me. This section will be the entire list, at this point. Of course, I prefer harpsichord performances above all others. None of the organ music really appeals to me very much.

Stereotypically enough, I find the Well-Tempered Clavier the most significant set, especially for its didactic qualities. It encapsulates Bach's ideas for me, and I continue to find it stimulating. This recording is tremendous, my favorite among several excellent recordings:

J.S. Bach: Das Wolhtemperierte Clavier (*)
Davitt Moroney
Harmonia Mundi musique d'abord 1901285.88 (4 CDs)

I still have something of a soft spot for the Partitas, but my enthusiasm for them has waned tremendously.

Similar comments apply to the Clavierübung Book II, in particular the Italian Concerto. In Book III, the small-scale duetti are the most appealing to me. At this point, neither set really merits an entry, although I retain some affection for them.

I am not a Goldberg fanatic, by any means, but I do value them. An excellent recording:

Bach: Variations Goldberg (**)
Pierre Hantaï
Mirare 9945

Of course, The Art of Fugue is a must, if a bit repetitive as a whole. The following performance is an easy choice:

Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge (*)
Davitt Moroney
Harmonia Mundi 901169.70 (2 CDs)

It includes the "as is" version of the Contrapunctus 14, as well as a completion. The Musical Offering also contains some interesting late music, although it's a bit thin.

Obviously I am very fond of Moroney's work. Perhaps you are not, but if you haven't heard him at all, you really should. I find his approach to phrasing particularly stimulating.

I will try to keep this page up to date as new releases appear, and I do try to hear any relevant recording that gets rave reviews. Of course, there is no guarantee that any new disc will ever be able to supplant a recording presently on this list, however it seems likely that it will happen someday. As opposed to the other lists, where things happen on a month-to-month basis, here it could be years....

To recommendation lists.

Todd M. McComb
25 February 2004