Bach recommendations for a beginner?

Dear forum members.

It is Good Friday today and the local AM radio station is playing music for the occasion.  During the radio program they are recommending/playing Bach for the occasion.  With no experience in classical music I am wondering if forum members could recommend a short list of must have CD's for Bach.  I do have Christian beliefs.  So any music in this vein would be of interest.  Though I am wishing to appreciate any Bach must haves.  I hope this makes sense.

I have found this list though have a hang up that they are not Decca Classics.  Just my mind set.

My location is in Australia and would prefer to use a local Australian CD shop as I have purchased from overseas before only to have the CD's arrive in many pieces.  I no longer use eBay outside of Australia.

Here is a link to the Australian Decca Classic website

There are two CD's short listed as Bach Orchestral Suites and I am wondering if forum members would recommend either of these two or something completely different.  I am using the first link from as a guide for this first selection.

Thank you for your time.

Warm regards and Happy Easter,



Original Post

The challenge with recommending Bach is the sheer breadth of his output. At risk of offending Bach experts, I'd say you could split his output into his explicitly religious work, the Passions, Cantatas etc., and his instrumental work. 

To get a feel for Bach, the best known instrumental works are the Brandenburg concertos and the Toccata and Fugue for organ. The Brandenburgs I'd say are a good gateway, I'd suggest the Higwood from the Decca site. Alternatively the Accardo violin concertos Cd would be less recognisable, but superb. If you want to start with some of the most profound music for solo stringed instruments, the Cello Suites are incredible. Or the Partitas for solo violin, the Chaconne from No. 2 being breathtaking.

For the religious works, the pinnacle is I suppose the St Matthew Passion,. It is as it suggests a setting of the Passion from St Matthew's gospel, appropriate for today. There's an English version conducted by David Wilcocks on the Decca site. It runs to probably 2.5 hours.

Forgive me Likesmusic.  50 is too many to short list at the moment.  For the moment I am going with Eoink's selection.  Though will keep your link handy as I progress

So far I have found this  I am taking Higwood as a misspelling for Hogwood

5 to select from here (could you please short list one?

There are 11 of these.  Though I think I might be getting some idea.

I did not have much luck looking for the Chaconne No 2 with the following url

St. Matthew's Passion

You both have given me some where to start and I appreciate this very much.  At the Decca site I can preview the tracks on teh album.  Well some them any way.  The rest I will dig through iTunes for a preview before placing an order for a CD or two.

Thank you kindly.


Bach Cello Suites - of the five in that list I would pick Starker, but (without wanting to provoke a big argument), that list is a poor selection of 5. Steven Isserlis' recent set on Hyperion is very fine (you can download it in CD res or hires from Hyperion) and the list of "great" interpretations would have to include Casals, Rostropovich  and Fournier. I appreciate the Gramophone's list is a long one, but if you pick a selection of 5 works - say the Brandenburgs, the Violin and/or Keyboard Concertos, a set of single instrument Suites - say Violin Sonatas and Partitas, or Cello Suites and a religious work then you can use it's recommendations.

There are many great recordings of the Mathew Passion. I am going to listen to John Eliot Gardners recent one over the next few days. This is not music you sample and listen to in the background. You sit down, you listen, ideally with the words in front of you. Why not get yourself a Qobuz subscription?


Apologies, Hogwood was what I meant. For the Cello Suites, I have the Gendron recording and love it.

Apologies again I wasn't clear, the Chaconne I mentioned is a single movement in Partita No. 2. An incredible piece of writing. Of those recordings in the Decca site, I know and love the Viktoria Mullova. 


I didn't mention the great piano (harpsichord) music earlier, have a preview of the Goldberg variations as well, another pinnacle of human achievement. 

Fair point Christopher, which is why I tried to keep the number of recommendations low to start, and ones that (with the exception of the Passion) didn't need you to take 2 hours to appreciate the scale of the work. Problem is that every time I think about it, I think "But I can't not mention that", and realising I hadn't mentioned keyboard works I felt I should.

Brandenburgs to start I'd say, then the Cello or Violins,



Again thank you Eoimk and Likemusic.  I have found your recommendations more than helpful.  With regards to Qobuz, I had not heard of this before.  We currently own no streaming devices except a 13 year old iMac and a Apple TV 3rd generation.  It does not go through the HIFI.  If this site requires on-line streaming.  I am unable to do that at the moments as we have three adult children who play on-line games and have Netflix.  When it comes to what Dad would like to do on the internet.  Mum and I fall back in a very distant 4th and 5th place.  I have tried streaming internet radio stations with no joy.  There is just not the bandwidth.  Though that is about to change in five months when we in the Bush will get our own version of Australian Broadband FTTN.  Hopefully it will keep the gamer's and movie watcher's at bay.

I am still an old fashion guy spinning CD disks in our stereo.  I think, at least first, it might be too much to teach my lovely wife how to use a streamer even after I have got my head around it.

The CD player is a Marantz CD-5 from the late 80's.  The amp is a Nait XS-2 with the speakers a pair of Celestion SL6Si's.  Again from the late 80's.  The bass is a little soft (being an electric bass player).  Though I can still tap a beat and follow some of the notes.  They are OK for our room size.  Yes we could do better, though not at the moment, finances.  I am looking at CD5 XS down the track.  Though this will have to do for the near future as we plan to move to an even further distant country town from our GPO of Melbourne, Australia.  I can see a turntable being added to the mix and after that I will think about streamers.  One step at a time.  Though thank you for bringing it to my attention.  It is something that I had never thought of.

Warm regards,


Thank you every one.  I have a head cold with the works.  I am calling it a night.  I have emailed all the links and albums to myself to make my own shortlist.  I will try to keep it to 5 CD's.  If you have any others that are a must have please post.  I will have a peek tomorrow.

Thank you again, very much.


Having just driven 200 miles to visit my mum for Easter, I got to listen to Rostropovich's Cello Suites (Nos 1,4,5) in the car.  My music isn't well enough filed on the USB stick to be able to choose a performance using the voice input, so I couldn't refresh my memory on the Gendron.  Rostropovich's performances are lovely, really bring out the dance in the music, but I do have a very soft spot for the Gendron they have on  Decca,  a very well balanced performance.


As to your question, yes, the Gramophone top 10 is a good, safe and general starting point.  It is just scratching the surface though and one can dig a lot deeper.  Not to bury you though and not knowing you personally in order to predict what you could like I would suggest you ask yourself what you really want or expect out of this Bach recommendation exercise?

I would generally say you could focus on orchestral / concerto (1-3), choral (9-10) or solo instruments (4-8) (keyboard, violin, cello, lute etc.) .  On the Gramophone top 10 I have put the numbers next to the three general categories.  You may find you like them all or favour one or two genres over the others.  That's fine.  The point is to be honest and then follow your heart.  For me, it is solo instruments, vocal music and concertos that I pursue the most.

Now, at the risk of taking you off the well worn garden path I have another idea.  When I read your thread topic it is essentially two things: 1) Bach  2) recommendations for a beginner.  So this got me thinking more toward point 2 and then to what the first Bach experience was for me as a 'beginner' some 45 or 50 years ago.

I would like to introduce you to Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach.  Essentially, J.S. Bach gave his new wife two special musical notebooks shortly after their marriage (the first one was in 1722) and the second one in 1725.  The first one contained Bach's own French Suites (some completed and some fragments) plus various other little works.  Most of this is lost to us today.  Some of the music is from J.S. Bach and his wife would add other music of the day too.  So, essentially a musical scrapbook for the family to enjoy and learn from.  Today, the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach is basically the 1725 version.  It contains two Partitas (BWV 827 & 830) and two French Suites (BWV 812 & 813) plus various small works and Choral snippets.  Again, some contributed by other members of the Bach family (like P.E. Bach) or others like Petzold, Couperin etc.

So this is a long way to say that my (and every child who took piano lessons probably) very first Bach exposure was through this book.  In particular, these were the various beginning Menuets, a Rondeau, a Polonaise and some Chorals.  It worked for me so I thought why not offer this as a different starting point?  So, with the understanding that this is not 100% Bach, I offer you a journey through the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (1725, mostly).

This is almost a couple of hours so it is a fair commitment but well worth it if you want to experience a bit of the what the Bach household may have been like (keyboard & voice).  Anna Magdalena was a trained professional singer so you can see how important these Chorales are (Bach wrote 200 Cantatas in addition to the Passions and Mass etc.)

If you like keyboard works, after this I would start with the Two-Part Inventions and Sinfonias (3-part inventions).  If you like Decca, I think you could look for Andras Schiff or others?

Actually, if you go to this link you can then easily see what the different pieces are...

Enjoy the journey!

Thank you EOINK,  I was able to find this

Though only suites 1 and 2.  I have emailed myself the link for future reference and purchase.  After I have read every bodies posts I will listen to the the recommended albums and make a selection to start with.  I do not have limitless finances though do very gratefully appreciate everyone's time and efforts and kind thoughts and suggestions.

Warm regards,


Hello Florestan,

I found this link on Decca and will email it to my self and search through the selections you have mentioned.  Again, thank you very much for taking the time to post and set me on the right path.

What do I like?  I am not sure yet.  I thought I would like the Passions.  Though initial listening they are quite heavy.  Violin solos and cellos do have appeal.  I believe I am after, to be picked up, encompassed by the music and be lost for an hour or so per CD.  I can be no more technical than this.  As outside of my feelings I do not know the correct terms and will refrain from using words that I am not familiar with and do not understand.

Collectively, I wish to thank every one for taking the time to guide this 54 year old beginner on a possible new passion.

Warm regards,


Short list.  I think I have been able to draft a short list of 5 Cd's.  Please feel free to jump in and say "Paul, instead of this get this?"

In reality, this is six listings.  I was going to add a harpsichord selection.  I do like it.  But it does not grab me like the others.  It is interesting, but I find it a bit repetitive.  I will leave it for the next purchase.

I will sit on this list for a couple of days and place my order after Easter to allow for any changes.

Thank you again,

Paul, out in The Bush and Down Under.


Like I said, the Gramophone top 10 is a very good place to start (the works themselves - feel free to substitute whatever recording you can find) 

For starters, if you want to forget about this world for one hour (as you requested) and experience supreme bliss I would highly recommend the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988.  You will hear the Aria on Disc 2 of my original youtube suggestion, if you listened to that.

Here is the full work (An Aria followed by 30 variations of it and then ending with the Aria) played by Maria Tipo.  Put on some headphones, close your eyes and be prepared to be transported away.

If you want a quarter hour express lane boost, try this (Tatiana Nikolayeva):

Hi Paul, your selection of the Partitas (4th link down) is a guitar rescoring. On the Decca list is the Mullova performance I love, on violin. I'd suggest this above the guitar, if you want to check it out, try the Ciaccona (Chaconne) from No 2 on the second CD to see what you think. (For some reason the samples don't play on the tablet I've brought to my mum's, so I can't try the guitar version.)


All the best Eoin.

Paul, just saw your latest list.  Further to Eoink's suggestion, I would say that I would get a St. Matthew's Passion sung in German?  Also, don't get cornered in by harpsichord only etc.  For starters, get what you feel comfortable with and most importantly what you will enjoy listening to.  You can always fill in the holes later if you wish.  My youtube's above will give a nice example of a pianoforte and you can compare and decide. 

My original thinking for recommending the Hogwood Passion is that for a Christian wanting to get into Bach, the English version seemed more accessible, as I remember the recording the diction is very clear, so the Gospel setting  will be easy to follow. For pure music I'd personally go for the  Harnoncourt (not on the Decca site) in German, but I'd expect the Hogwood to be an easier introduction to the work due to the language.

Paul, I don't disagree with Florestan, just explaining my earlier thinking,  maybe try both English and German on YouTube (not the whole 2 hours , just the start) and see what you think.

Thank you Florestan for reminding of the variations,

I found these




Would you be able to pick one of these out for me please?

No, last night I went straight to be and did not listen to your link though I am doing so now and an pleasantly surprised by the piano and the pianist's skills.  Very enjoyable.  I am not a big fan of piano.  Though this album is very beautiful.

Eoin, thank you for reminding me of this album and supplying the link.  I emailed myself so many links last night that have become lost in all the different links.  I will set up a new Bach folder inside the old one and start again.  I did select the guitar one as I found it interesting being a Mark Knopfler appreciator and being an electric christian rock bass guitarist myself.

I seem to have allowed myself to be side tracked and will refer back to the Gramophone's Top 10.  Though when I was searching last night not all of the titles appeared to be available.  I can not remember if that is why I approached the forum or for another reason.  My head cold is doing me in.  But back I will go and do another search and drop these links (emails) into yet again another folder.

All comments and recommendations gratefully appreciated.

Thank you,



G'day again, After some more home work and using our friend Mr Google I was able to find all of Gramophone's Top 10 on Amazon except for these albums listed.  I have a shortlist of 5 which Amazon came up with.  I would be interested if these receive your collective ticks of approval instead of those recommended by Gramophone.


Number 8

Number 10 St Matthews Passion I ended up with these possibilities

Warm regards,


Paul, for the Goldberg Variations on Decca with Schiff you have one choice.  It is his 1982 recording.  I think all four of the links you have are actually the same recording.   Schiff did a newer recording in 2001, I think, on ECM label as well.

As for the St. Matthew, both Gardiner and Harnoncourt subscribe to the HIP movement and so that means quite fast tempos.  No real difference between either but if I had to choose I'd go with the Harnoncourt.

Hi Paul, I don't know that performance of the violin works I'm afraid. . As I said earlier in the thread, I choose the Harnoncourt Passion as my favourite, so I'd take that one.

i hope you get great joy from these, if Bach turns out to be a composer that "works" for you, you're in for a wonderful experience. 


A best of cd and complete box is a nice way to start.

Then you can have different recordings/performances of you favorites

The box set is still available in amazon not sure about the harmonia mundi 2 cd set

For a apx 100$ you have lots of Bach to become familiar with


You are not playing fair EMRE.  I will go check it out.  I may be wrong, or looking a gift horse in the mouth.  I have been disappointed with cardboard sleeves in the past.  With the sleeves falling apart and getting glue all over the disk.  I am not an audiophile.  Though would the quality be there in these recordings.  It sounds too good to be true, but very attractive all the same.

Oh well, back to Amazon.

Warm regards,


David and Igor Oistrakh playing Bach's Double Violin Concerto. I still play the vinyl after 45+ years.

The concerto is characterized by the subtle yet expressive relationship between the violins throughout the work. The musical structure of this piece uses fugal imitation and much counterpoint. Bach was the master of of these techniques.

Likes (0)