David mellor box set of the week
The 333 years since the birth of J S Bach isn’t really an anniversary, merely an excuse. But who cares when this is a real milestone in the history of recorded sound: the issue of every known piece by Bach on 222 CDs, amounting to more than 280 hours of music.
In his own lifetime, J S Bach merely had a regional reputation. He became accepted as a truly great composer only after his rediscovery by Mendelssohn in the 1820s-30s. And it took a further century for chamber orchestras to emerge able to perform Bach’s greatest pieces in a way that does them justice.
Bach not only wrote great orchestral music, he also wrote great vocal and instrumental pieces. As for his keyboard music, it is the greatest-ever contribution to the organ repertoire. Although Bach lived for 65 years, the sheer scale of his productivity is astonishing, even by the standards of Mozart.
Speaking of Mozart, there is an obvious learning curve from this label’s 2016 box of Mozart’s complete works to this one. This Bach box wins through in the choices of recordings, based around historically informed performances, but including more than 50 CDs of recordings either employing modern instruments or of real historical significance. I would not want to be without modern piano performances by the likes of Andras Schiff, Martha Argerich and Alfred Brendel. Nor historic performances by artists like Adolf Busch, Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould.
The issue is extremely well documented, with a lavishly illustrated biography of Bach. It isn’t cheap, retailing at more than £300, but it’s worth every penny if you can afford it.