These are not by any means the complete recordings of Wanda Landowska; the great Polish-born harpsichordist enthusiastically embraced the new technology of recording well before World War II. Born in 1879 into a Jewish family, she made numerous recordings before fleeing Europe with little more than her Pleyel harpsichord and settling in Connecticut with her student and life companion, Denise Restout. These recordings were all made in the U.S. for the RCA label, when Landowska was 70 years old or more. Earlier Landowska recordings are necessary to fill out a representative collection, but there is much to recommend this large set.
In a way, Landowska was one of the originators of the entire historical-performance movement; she was the first person to insist that Bach's non-organ keyboard works should be played on the harpsichord. Yet her Bach performances bore little resemblance to what soon after her death would be considered authentic performances; her Pleyel harpsichord was a loud, complicated thing, with lots of different manuals and stops, and it did not resemble any harpsichord of Bach's time in the least. Landowska played it in what for Bach qualifies as a hyperexpressive style; whether or not Glenn Gould was directly influenced by Landowska (and it's hard to see how he wouldn't have been), the music of this set gives an idea of what the Canadian pianist might have sounded like had he ever recorded on the harpsichord. She races across the keyboard, booms through chordal movements, and takes a bit of liberty with tempo at times. The hugely varied performance of the Well-Tempered Clavier on the first two discs qualifies as one of the all-time greats. Landowska played the way she did because, she said, she had to convince skeptics that the harpsichord was more than a tinkly relic of the distant past.
At any rate, any decline in Landowska's skills -- and such a decline is slight, if present at all -- is offset by the superior (for the 1940s and 1950s) sound quality of these late recordings. Landowska was something of a sound engineering wonk and worked closely with engineers to realize the huge variety of effects that her big harpsichord was capable of. This is a propitious time for the re-release of these classic recordings: there's an extreme spirit afoot in the world of Baroque recordings, and it's one that Wanda Landowska would have loved. If you're a fan of Janine Jansen's Vivaldi or of any of the Young Turks of the harpsichord, sample this set to see where it all began. You may find yourself hooked enough to buy the whole seven-disc set.