Charles Rosen recorded this Goldbergs in 1967 (issued in 1969) -- with the legendary producer Thomas Z. Shepard at the controls -- and it was a best-seller in its day, then on LP. I owned it and loved it but when we all converted to CDs I didn't seek out a CD reissue. I see that it was actually reissued on SONY Classical in 1992 Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 / Charles Rosen but I never heard it in that version. Newton Classics seems to be reissuing worthwhile recordings these days and I have in fact never heard a bad performance from them.
Charles Rosen (1927-2012) is not as well-known these days as he was several decades ago. And even then he was probably better known for his musicological writings, primary of which was his amazingly helpful 'The Classical Style' (1971) still a model of its type. But he was always sterling pianist and his performances and recordings always worth hearing.
Rosen never performed the Goldberg Variations in recital and is quoted in George Hall's excellent liner notes as having said that it 'was meant for home study and could not be played as Bach would have intended except in solitude'. This is as may be, but it is also possible that Rosen realized that this monster of a piece is difficult to pull off in live performance, especially for a pianist even the least little bit nervous, as Rosen could be. And it says something that this recording was made over a period of a week, not in one or two or three 'takes'. This is no criticism because the variations, meant for a two-keyboard harpsichord, are a veritable bitch to play without the pianist's fingers tripping over each other. And of course each variation is complete in itself, thus made for this piecemeal recording process. In the end, though, this recording is one for the ages and has something to say that others do not. Rosen laid out the architecture of this amazingly cogent set of variations over a ground bass -- a giant chaconne, if you prefer -- with grace and sharply etched lines. There is no taffy-pulling or romantic mooning in this recording. Rosen plays it 'straight' but also makes poetry of its structure. All the lines are crystal clear without the idiosyncratic staccato playing one hears from Gould and his imitators. Recorded sound is exemplary.
This recording is definitely one for lovers of the Goldbergs and also for those coming to them anew.