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Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II / Andras Schiff


Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 001733702  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  András Schiff
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BACH Well-Tempered Clavier (complete) András Schiff (pn) ECM 001733702 (4 CDs: 246:23)


András Schiff is an old hand at Bach, having recorded most of the composer’s major solo and concerted keyboard works, including a previous WTC for Decca back in the 1980s. Over the course of reviewing numerous artists performing Bach’s keyboard works on piano, I’ve consistently cited András Schiff, along Read more with Angela Hewitt and Craig Sheppard, as my touchstones in this repertoire. So a new complete WTC from Schiff aroused great expectations, which, happily, were not disappointed.


Many artists, on returning to a work essayed 25 years earlier, would mellow their approach and slow their tempos, but Schiff isn’t having any of that. It’s clear from these new readings that he has thoroughly rethought Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues and now presents them faster and with sharper rhythmic pointing than previously. Instead of plastering the page with comparative timings between the old and new versions for all 48 preludes and fugues, let me just display an abbreviated table of the very few exceptions where the timings for Schiff II are either slower than, or identical to, Schiff I:


Book I Schiff I Schiff II


E Minor 3:18 3:18


F#-Minor 3:52 3:53


Book II


C Minor 4:33 4:43


C#-Minor 5:56 5:56


F Minor 5:54 5:54


Bb-Major 8:58 9:27


That’s it. In only three of the six numbers, identified in bold, is Schiff II slower than Schiff I, in one case by just one second, in another by 10 seconds, and in the third by a more pronounced 29 seconds. In the other three non-bolded numbers, Schiff II is unchanged from Schiff I. That leaves 42 out of 48 preludes and fugues, all of which—I repeat, all of them—are now faster, and in some cases astonishingly so. For example, Schiff I took 6:17 for the Prelude and Fugue in Bb-Minor from Book I; Schiff II now takes 5:25, an acceleration of 42 seconds. Even more stunning is the speedup in the Prelude and Fugue in E Minor from Book II—Schiff I, 7: 03; Schiff II, 5:48, a difference of 1:15.

But it’s not merely that Schiff is more animated in his new version, he’s also more open to spontaneity and to the playfulness that distinguishes Angela Hewitt’s Bach. Any complaints that Schiff’s Decca WTC was stiff and cautious can now be laid to rest. The pianist’s long experience with Bach seems to have loosened his former reserve while at the same time tightening his technical command. It’s as if Schiff’s confidence and comfort level have reached the point where he finally feels at ease in addressing Bach with the familiar German Du instead of the more formal Sie.

Some may seek the greater sense of ennoblement that comes from lingering over the concluding B-Minor Prelude and Fugue from Book I, but we should not forget that these are pieces written to demonstrate a pragmatic technical point. They are not spiritual meditations in the manner of Bach’s chorale preludes, and dwelling on the slow numbers in an effort to make them sound deeply devotional can have the opposite effect, making them instead sound self-indulgent and pretentious. Schiff strikes just the right balance, giving the slow-paced preludes and fugues their due while resisting affectation. Schiff’s fast-paced movements are brisk and rhythmically smart, with the left hand engaging the right equally in contrapuntal play while always bringing out the fundamental bass notes that underpin the harmonic framework. Of the many available piano versions of the Well-Tempered Clavier , András Schiff’s latest is definitely a top choice. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

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Works on This Recording

1. Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 846-869 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  András Schiff (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1722; Cöthen, Germany 
2. Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, BWV 870-893 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  András Schiff (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738-1742; Leipzig, Germany 

Featured Sound Samples

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Fugue no 13 in F sharp
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude no 21 in B flat

Sound Samples

Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium C-Dur, BWV 846
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge C-Dur, BWV 846
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium c-Moll, BWV 847
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge c-Moll, BWV 847
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium Cis-Dur, BWV 848
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge Cis-Dur, BWV 848
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium cis-Moll, BWV 849
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge cis-Moll, BWV 849
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium D-Dur, BWV 850
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge D-Dur, BWV 850
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium d-Moll, BWV 851
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge d-Moll, BWV 851
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium Es-Dur, BWV 852
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge Es-Dur, BWV 852
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium es-Moll/dis-Moll, BWV 853
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge es-Moll/dis-Moll, BWV 853
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium E-Dur, BWV 854
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge E-Dur, BWV 854
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium e-Moll, BWV 855
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge e-Moll, BWV 855
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium F-Dur, BWV 856
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge F-Dur, BWV 856
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium f-Moll, BWV 857
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge f-Moll, BWV 857
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium Fis-Dur, BWV 858
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge Fis-Dur, BWV 858
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium fis-Moll, BWV 859
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge fis-Moll, BWV 859
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium G-Dur, BWV 860
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge G-Dur, BWV 860
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium g-Moll, BWV 861
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge g-Moll, BWV 861
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium As-Dur, BWV 862
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge As-Dur, BWV 862
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium gis-Moll, BWV 863
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge gis-Moll, BWV 863
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium A-Dur, BWV 864
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge A-Dur, BWV 864
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium a-Moll, BWV 865
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge a-Moll, BWV 865
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium B-Dur, BWV 866
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge B-Dur, BWV 866
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium b-Moll, BWV 867
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge b-Moll, BWV 867
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium H-Dur, BWV 868
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge H-Dur, BWV 868
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Präludium h-Moll, BWV 869
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book 1, BWV 846-869: Fuge h-Moll, BWV 869

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  10 Customer Reviews )
 A Perfect Gift April 2, 2013 By Karen W. (Cliff, NM) See All My Reviews "After hearing Andras Schiff interviewed by Fred Child on APR, I knew that his recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier would be the perfect gift for a painter in my family, who plays the piano in his studio to amplify his work--primarily about color and light--and it was. He listens to it every day, just as Schiff, as a teenager, learned to exercise with Bach instead of scales, melding beauty and discipline in his daily practice--a kind of musical floss for one's internal hygiene, as Andras said, 'Because it is so pure.'" Report Abuse
 Better the Second Time Around? March 31, 2013 By Anthony B. (Atlanta, GA) See All My Reviews "In this case yes. Schiff I and II are anodynes. His first recording of WTC I and II were very good but a bit too sedate. They needed more zest. His second is filled with far more spirit and far more light. It is one of the very best recorded sets I've ever heard. If you care about this music you need to buy this set. It's a real endorphin pump." Report Abuse
 Baroque with modern edge January 25, 2013 By D. Eckersley (Long Beach, CA) See All My Reviews "Bach, one of my most listened to composers, is awarded with Andras Schiff's artistry of baroque perfection with a modern edge - a faster tempo in some preludes and fugues and a concentration of baroque style with feeling. This is a wonderful recording of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier." Report Abuse
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