The first Bach CD I ever bought was András Schiff’s recording of the Well Tempered Clavier. My memory is a little hazy, but I think I paid almost $100 (AUS) for the 4-CD set (I ordered it through Allans Music on Collins Street: your typical 20th century classical music store which, in addition to selling CDs, charged exorbitant prices for sheet music which can now be legally downloaded in massive quantities here). I had a chance to see Schiff play live in 2000 (at the Barbican), but, after a tip off from the NY times, I found out he was also giving a Bach recital at Chicago Symphony Hall. His played the complete second book from the 48 (composed, incidentally, 20 years after the first). It was an intense performance that lasted almost three hours, and was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a while (the audience, as might be expected from a solo Bach concert, was younger and better behaved than the usual crowd of wheezing octogenarians). Schiff eschews the use of the pedal in Bach completely, which perhaps is easier to do when you have such amazing legato.
It was a little tough finding the right video to post – most of the Well Tempered Clavier on Youtube by Schiff is from his 80’s recording, not his recent one. But then I found this snippet from a masterclass, and, although it’s not the WTC (it’s my favourite Partita), just from listening to the first five seconds of the Rondeau (about 30 seconds in) you get a sense of his magical touch. (Plus, you also get to see Fred Armisen in character as Harry Potter playing the piano!)