Bach's Goldberg Variations: a quick guide to essential recordings
Monday, May 24, 2021
Three highly recommended recordings: a modern choice, a classic and a hidden gem
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Legend has it that Bach received a commission to compose a set of variations aimed to ward off Count Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk’s insomnia. During sleepless nights, the count would summon his trusty teenage court harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play through several variations. This story ultimately proved untrue, but that hasn’t affected the Aria with 30 Variations’ iconic status. Here are are three of the finest accounts on record, with two performed by pianists and the third, our 'hidden gem', by a harpsichordist.
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The Modern Choice
Murray Perahia (Sony Classical)
'Murray Perahia enters the fray with a version that isn’t just colourful, or virtuosic, or thorough in terms of repeats, but profoundly moving as well...'
The Classic Choice
Glenn Gould (Sony Classical)
'This truly astonishing performance was recorded in 1981, 26 years after Gould's legendary 1955 disc. Gould was not in the habit of re-recording but a growing unease with that earlier performance made him turn once again to a timeless masterpiece and try, via a radically altered outlook, for a more definitive account...'
The Hidden Gem
Céline Frisch (Alpha)
'Céline Frisch is a bright ‘nova’ on the harpsichord’s celestial horizon. She conveys joyous enthusiasm in the quick movements and beautifully phrased solemnity in the slow ones...'