David mel­lor box set of the week

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL -

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.

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