Here is a package that satisfies intellectual curiosity and is musically delightful. This two-disc set begins with a precise, but still musical, harpsichord performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations by Céline Frisch. Her Aria is clean, with both the melody and the bass line countermelody clear and phrased so that everything comes together well. Her ornaments fit naturally into the melodies throughout the variations, without drawing attention away from the tune, and she always has a sense of direction and forward momentum. The second disc contains the 14 canons on the first eight notes of the bass of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and the two songs that are contained in the quodlibet near the end of the Variations. The canons are rich and warm performed by Café Zimmermann, a string sextet that includes a double bass, with excellent contrasts in the feel of each canon. The song Cabbages and Turnips Have Driven Me Away is the highlight of the two discs. Period instruments accompany Dominique Visse as he sings about a hunter bringing a girl home to meet his mother. Visse switches from a jolly, idiomatic tenor voice for the hunter to a smooth alto for the girl, and a slightly grating alto for the mother, often in mid-verse.
The arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, for string trio by Russian violinist and composer Dmitry Sitkovetsky has taken on a life of its town, with multiple performances and even a sort of electronic remix by Karlheinz Essl. The appeal for string chamber groups longing to share in Bach's riches is obvious, and for audiences it appears to be another case of Bach's music standing up to whatever you do to it. Like most other annotators, Hyperion's Nigel Simeone tries to claim that the arrangement is on a par with the numerous transcriptions Bach made of his own works. It is no such thing; the string chamber texture by its nature adds expressive devices that were not of Bach's world, and he would have found Sitkovetsky's version bizarre.
Who needs another recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations? After all, there have been so many great recordings of the work already – Landowska, Kempff, Gould, Pinnock, and Leonhardt, to name a few – that surely no one needs another recording of the Goldberg. Actually, everyone needs another recording of the Goldbergs provided that it's a recording of a great performance. There's too much in the Goldberg – too much brilliance, too much sorrow, too much humor, too much spirituality – for any one performance, even the best performance, to contain all of it. So long as the performance honors the work's honesty, integrity, and virtuosity, there's always room for another Goldberg on the shelf. This 2001 recording by Andras Schiff belongs on any shelf of great Goldbergs. Schiff has everything it takes – the virtuosity; the integrity; and most importantly, the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual honesty – to turn in a great Goldberg. Indeed, Schiff has already done so in his 1982 Decca recording of the work, a lucid and pellucid performance of tremendous beauty and depth. But as good as the 1982 recording was, the 2001 recording is better.
The Russian-born violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, who founded the New European Strings Chamber Orchestra in 1990, has enthusiastically practiced the art of transcription for many years, producing more than 25 new string arrangements of chamber and keyboard works. This is Sitkovetsky’s first project for Nonesuch, a creative adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for strings, cast a fresh light on that formidable monument of keyboard music. The New York Times called it “robust, joyous and full of insight.”
An aria, thirty variations, fourteen canons, two songs. An entire world, that of the Goldberg Variations, can be summed up in these words.
Céline Frisch’s interpretation is mirrored by Café Zimmermann’s fresh approach.
Keith Jarrett is incredibly gifted both as a painist and as a harpsichordist. That he chose the harpsichord for his rendition of the Golberg Variations suggests that he found it capable of rendering a closer approximation of his ideal interpretation of these works. Hearing it is indeed a great joy!
Prominent Australian keyboard performer Elizabeth Anderson tops the highest peak in musical terms for harpsichordists - Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. Taking an energetic 93 minutes to perform, it is regarded as the pinnacle of keyboard compositions - a test of both performance ability and endurance.
The great Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt recorded Bach's "Goldberg Variations" three times:
• in June 1953 at the Konzerthaus, Vienna for Vanguard;
• in 1965 for Das Alte Werk;
• in August 1976 in Haarlem, Holland for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.
all three have appeared first time on vinyl, and are really superlative - the 1953 fast and racy, the 1965 poised and polished, and the 1975 smart and cerebral - and any one of them would be a clear first choice if the other two didn't exist.
Among recordings of Bach's monumental "Goldberg Variations" on the piano, András Schiff's 1982 set is justly famous. Unlike so many discs that have been issued in tired series designated "legendary recordings" or some other such term, this one fully lives up to the billing with its incredible delineation of Bach's contrapuntal lines. You hear every note, every hidden piece of the inner clockwork of each variation. Sample variation 14, with its trills erupting sharply from each line like spring flowers blooming with freakishly rapid intensity – nobody else has ever given this variation such a glittering quality. Even as Schiff uses the full resources of the piano, with lots of pedal and thoroughly unidiomatic crescendos, he articulates every note Bach wrote. Schiff sets himself technical challenges and then surmounts them. Beginning with the opening Aria he sets a blistering pace – one that may seem too fast, especially in the slow variations, to those raised on Glenn Gould's dreamy readings. But listen to the high-wire act Schiff performs in the canonic variation 21. The intensity is ramped up by the fact that Schiff often barely pauses between variations; one idea follows another, from both Bach and Schiff, with breakneck speed.