Wanda Landowska brought the Goldbergs out of hiding on the harpsichord in the '40s and Glenn Gould made them a bonafide hit on the piano in the '50s, opening the floodgates for keyboardists of all stripes. So, in one of his earlier recorded voyages into the classical world, Keith Jarrett is up against an imposing legacy as he tackles what has become the most famous set of variations in Western music. First, he chooses to play them on a double-manual harpsichord – which makes the task somewhat easier, avoiding the finger-tangling cross hand difficulties that can trip up a piano performance.
BBC New Generation Artist Beatrice Rana sets her sights on Bach in this dignified reading of the Goldberg Variations. Treating every ornamentation and run with stately regard, Rana delivers a deep, meditative interpretation. Its closing “Aria” sounds so delicate that it feels at risk of floating away.
This a gorgeous version of this difficult and, in my opinion, normally elusive piece. Shemer makes the harpsichord sing, dance, laugh, cry and meditate. Having his instrument tuned to A=392 and recorded in a church certainly helps the contemplative aspect of this work, and the sound is rich and never metallic, as with many versions. If ever there was a case for throwing piano versions into the bin of history, Shemer is your best advocate.
While one might reasonably prefer this, that or the other recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, one should still take the time to listen to this 1997 recording of the work played on the harpsichord by Masaaki Suzuki on BIS. For one thing, Suzuki is the conductor of BIS' series of Bach Cantata recordings and it is interesting to hear what he can do on his own without other musicians as intermediaries.
2007 has been a banner year for Goldbergs; no less than five recorded versions of the piece had appeared by the end of July, including a digitally reinterpreted incarnation of Glenn Gould's famous 1955 recording and Wilhelm Middelschulte's bizarre, psychedelic 1924 transcription of the work for organ. In the face of such circumstances, no one would blame music critics for throwing up their hands and saying something like "enough already!" Nevertheless, thankfully the Goldberg Variations is not that kind of a piece, its appeal is both immutable and universal.
For those uninitiated into the world of Baroque or harpsichord music, be forewarned: this budget-priced trio of CDs from Archiv is a hefty amount of Bach on the harpsichord. These are reissues of recordings of Bach's greatest keyboard works made in the early '80s by Trevor Pinnock. While you may be able to listen to nearly four straight hours of Bach, some may find it hard to listen to the harpsichord for that long.
The young pianist who blew everyone away at the GRAMMYs recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations as label debut. The Korean-born, US-trained pianist known simply as Ji is very much a classical musician for the 21st century. Having won the New York Philharmonic’s Young Artists Competition at the age of just 10, he went on to study at the prestigious Juilliard School. Described by the Chicago Tribune as “a gifted, sensitive young pianist who is clearly going places,” he has chosen Bach’s sublime Goldberg Variations for his debut on Warner Classics. “Classical music is never going away,” he says, “We live in very modern world, and it’s our job to live in the moment, but it’s also our job to respect and preserve tradition.”