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4.7 out of 5 stars34
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 February 2009
To my ear Richter is unique among pianists in his approach to the piano, and peformance by humans in general. And he brings all of this to the recording of Bach's 48 preludes and fugues. What do I mean by this? Well for a start he had a philosophy of not getting in the way of the music. So this makes his playing rather ethereal and in many cases it feels like it is drifting rather than being pushed. Sometimes there is even a feeling that the music is constantly slowing down, reaching the final cadence with perfect judgement. But not always - he has a technique that appears to have no limits, so some of the numbers are very strongly (and effortlessly)driven. Throughout the playing there seems to be an almost inhuman focus on the musical line, the sound, and the overall beauty. I have never heard the good old Bk 1 prelude in C sound so beautiful. Richter had a talent for making the dominant musical subject sound a different tone colour from the others, almost coming, exquisitely crafted, from a different piano. No mean feat in the finger-tangling fugues!

So the conclusion: I love this set. I keep listening to it. The playing is so different, fresh, and really works for this music. If you like Richter, Bach, or both, I think you will not be disappointed.
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on 29 November 2007
If you like listening to this masterpiece of the keyboard music played on the piano rather than on the harpsichord, this 4-CD set should be very rewarding. The performance, recorded in 1970 (Book I) and 1972-73 (Book II), is of the highest stature.

Richter's style is unmannered, straight-forward and devoid of eccentricity, which I think is quite unique among many recordings of this masterpiece made by prominent keyboard players in recent decades. In Richter's performance, there is absolutely no idiosyncrasy of Glenn Gould or sluggishness of Rosalyn Tureck or wrong notes of Edwin Fischer, however good their performance may be. Nothing seems to be imposed artificially from outside, and Bach's music flows totally naturally without any quirky tempo and rhythm changes for their own sake.

I also like Angela Hewitt's recordings (the first version she made for Hyperion), although I feel she uses the freedom of expression available to the piano a little too liberally. Richter also makes use of the piano's freedom of expression, but with total control and restraint. This is the art of the keyboard at its peak achieved most impressively by one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century.

The Bosendorfer piano that Richter plays has a sound which is darker and richer than other less full-bodied pianos like Steinway. This suits the "48" very well.

The only negative point about the present recordings is the quality of the sound which is a little too resonant. Also, you sometimes hear a slight, high-pitched, tinny echo - for instance, in Book I, BWV 863. I'm not sure why it was not corrected by the record company.

But, having said that, I cannot recommend this set too highly.
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HALL OF FAMEon 13 October 2005
A very generous friend gave me this set several years ago and I will be forever in her debt. I had never considered buying Richter playing Bach. For me he simply didn't seem to come out of the right tradition to play the Master of Leipzig. But I was mistaken, completely mistaken. This set of the WTC has become one of my most treasured possessions. For months it was in my car - a perfect way to listen to the Preludes and Fugues, a few at a time while driving short distances around town - and by now these performances are burned into my aural memory, as if they had always been there. There is such a feeling of inevitability about Richter's playing that I now cannot imagine them played any other way. Well, that's not entirely true, but close. Unlike Huibert Jonkers, whose review was posted here some months ago, I was a Glenn Gould groupie who thought his way with Bach was the best way. And though I still admire Gould, I must say that Richter has converted me. It's hard to put one's finger on what it is about Richter's playing except that it is so straightforward and full of good ol' artery-clogging cholesterol and yet so nuanced and highlighted, that it is impossible to resist. It's Romantic, I guess, and that's totally out of fashion these days. But I don't care about that. In fact, as an old pianist who has played the WTC at the keyboard for nigh on sixty years, I continue to have a hard time listening to WTC on the harpsichord. I suspect I'm not alone in that. We've been swept along in recent years by the 'historically-informed performance' folks and yet there are some of us who are not entirely convinced that the old-fashioned way with Bach isn't the best. Richter certainly fits in the 'old-fashioned' camp and that's fine with me.
Others have written here about individual details of these performances and I have little to add there. I am, like others, struck by Richter's wide dynamics and sometimes extreme tempi. For instance, the second prelude in WTC I goes faster than I've ever heard it and it is all the more exciting as a result. The overall shape of the performances, though, reveal a penetrating intellect and flawless technique put at the service of the music, granted Richter's own conception of the music, but who's to say that's not what Bach would have wanted?
I urgently recommend this box, especially since it is so attractively priced.
Scott Morrison
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on 2 March 2003
This rich recording is at times masked by reverberation, and the fruity sounding Bosendorfer. Richter's performance is gorgeous and constantly delightful, in a 'romantic' style; in other words, the pieces are not played in a crystalline or Gould-ian way, which I am more used to. Richter gives us a view of Bach which, flavoured with the burden of history, makes for a period piece, this is NOT a bad thing. I am so pleased to have bought this package, It is not background music for relaxation; this is an important document that should be treated with care and awe.
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on 13 February 2001
Richter developed a unique and profound love for Bach's music and this recording reflects that affinity that only the best musicians posses. The preludes and fugues is a selection of some of the most intense, powerful and emotive music I know of- indeed suited to Richter's own intense style of playing. In this recording, the great pianist appears so completely absorbed in his music that the purity and splendour of Bach's work is revealed brilliantly. It is a masterpiece of musical interpretation that reflects Richter's own laborious and fulfilling meditation on the music.
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on 6 May 2006
Once your ear adjust to the somewhat superficial sound, this is the version of Bach's 48 to have. Individual pieces may have received more beautiful or brilliant performances, but nobody can match Richter for the cummulative effect of his reading. In some pieces, like the transcendental b-minor from the first book, he creates a sound world that appears at once distant and all-engulfing. Utterly compelling
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on 26 February 2013
I own over 16 versions of the WTC (not to show off! just to show that I've heard a few ;) and this is certianly in the top two or three that I've ever heard. In many of these pieces Richter is simply unsurpassed (and possibly unequalled) - there are (as with all sets) some points one would disagree with; he does push hard in a few of the preludes, but by and large he achieves a beautiful, very spiritual quality to the vast majority of the pieces here(backed up by his amazing technique and sound) and allows them to simpy 'speak'. In some pieces, its hard to listen to other versions after hearing Richter's way with them (in Book 1, I would point out (just four examples out of many) nos 4, 8, 10 and 24 as being, quite simply, the best..)

Only Gould matches his clarity (intellectually and technically) in the fugues - but Richter achieves a more beautiful reading (he's mostly slower to much greater effect)

Very few others come close to this (Feinbery, Fischer, Nikolayeva spring to mind) - but it is really in another class to 'good' (but not outstanding versions) by Schiff, Hewitt and others.

sound quality is very good actually..
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on 10 January 2015
Despite some foggy sound in places and overall a low recorded volume level that does not assist Richter's infinite shading touch and control - some how the engineers did not do justice to this towering achievement - this is nevertheless of all the modern piano versions the most polished and satisfying. While Schiff in his acclaimed set offers Decca clarity and if you want to study the score this is the one to get - it is recorded up close, the approach favours a robust meticulously executed interpretation devoid of any romantic nuance or shade - I don't - it is too strident, plain and pedestrian and I tired of it quickly.

But Richter offers a jewel box compared with Schiff's Woolworth's bag of trinkets - in Richter's hands the 48 is a treasure trove in which you will discover more and more on each listening. He also turns the 48 into a set of individual musical works that draw you in and completely absorb you over a long period of time. You can really settle down and listen to this performance from start to finish in one go.

Then there is the issue of cost. The Schiff is over priced - this Richter is under valued. At this price for the two sets on 4 discs it is THE Richter bargain on Amazon.

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on 28 May 2004
Richter's Well-Tempered Clavier knocked me sideways when I heard first heard it. It was recorded at the beginning of the 1970s and really sounds its age alongside the clear perfection one finds in some of the most recent versions of the WTC: the piano sounds a bit clangy and the acoustic too reverberent. Listen through this, and there is something slightly old-fashioned, even old-school about Richter's Bach. Not here the historical consciousness that informs the conception of the works even on many fine and more recent recordings on the modern piano. But that is 'old-school' in the best sense. I would defy anybody not to be thoroughly enchanted by the authority of his playing, with its patrician grace and the luminous shine of his smooth and full lines. There's a kind of self-evident ease here you don't here you don't hear any more. Mastery delivered with a smile and a warm reminder of a bygone age of pianism.
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on 26 June 2013
I know little about music or musicians therefore I can offer you no wise words about Richter or his playing. All I can say is that I have loved Bach in all his manifestations all my life and with this recording it is natural to lie back, eyes closed, and undertake a wonderful voyage which is different but equally enthralling each and every time I listen.
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