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4.5 out of 5 stars33
4.5 out of 5 stars
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2008
This is a truly iconic disc, the legendary performance that introduced an eccentric Canadian pianist to the world at large. Gould had made a sensational debut in New York with a programme that included Beethoven's Op 109 sonate, a Sweelinck fantasia and the Webern variations. Snapped up by a CBS talent scout, he requested his first release should be Bach's Goldberg Variations, a seldom performed work the Leipzig cantor wrote for an aristocratic insomniac. As the recording took place, Gould sat on his pigmy stool, swaying, groaning, humming and playing like a god. Inbetween takes he popped pills, donned his overcoat and ate arrowroot biscuits washed down with spring water as the press gathered curiously to see the spectacle. The resulting LP sold 40,000 copies, redefined Bach playing and made Gould an instant star. Today, with many more fine recordings of the work, this is still the one that sets the benchmark. Invest and be dazzled by some of the greatest and most exciting piano playing ever committed to disc.
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118 of 123 people found the following review helpful
Sony's earlier release of this set, dating from as lately as 1992, is still available, but I'm sure they have some terribly good reason for reissuing it now. There is a reference to remastering of the sound, but I can't find out whether this is against the 1992 issue or the original one from 1955. The new disc sounds much like the old one to me, the sound of that was excellent (particularly for engineering now half a century old), and as for the performance...

This is the recording that first announced the Gould supernova to the musical world. He was 22 years old in 1955, he disavowed this account when he recorded the work again in1981, but much as I admire the latter this is the one for me. It is historic in more ways than one. In the first place it restored Bach-playing on the piano to fashionable respectability, as even Rosalyn Tureck had not quite managed to do. In the second place it marked the debut of one of the greatest geniuses, I am in no doubt at all, that ever played the instrument. Gould was a scholar and intellectual (although an unpretentious one), and his feeling and respect for the spirit of Bach's style were as acute as his interpretative sense was imaginative. However what pinned everyone's ears back when Gould came on the scene was just his phenomenal skill as an executant. Michelangeli himself was not more of a perfectionist than Gould was, and the cut-diamond super-perfection of his runs, trills and ornaments remains a thing to astonish the listener even in an age of ultra-accomplished technicians of the instrument. He has never been to everyone's taste, so I have no way of knowing whether he will be to yours with his rocketing speeds in certain variations, but I simply can't get enough of him.

There is a minor extra with this new release, namely some snippets from the recording sessions. This bonus is of course interesting, given that we are dealing with a prodigy of quite the stature of Gould, but I can't hear it as any major event given this maestro's well-known talkativeness. It can do no possible harm quite obviously, and if it gets on your nerves nothing is easier than to skip it. Failing that, Sony still seem to have the 1992 set available. Gould died abruptly of a stroke shortly before his 50th birthday, leaving behind him a more generous recorded legacy than certain other maestros of comparable eminence whom I shall not name. We lost him while he was still at the summit of his powers, and I have no idea what his early loss has denied us, because his range was a lot wider than one sometimes sees suggested. One way or another, this is the performance that set the ball rolling. As with the 1992 set there are a couple of fugues from the 48 as fillers, and the mildly interesting new element may simply be there to pad out the playing time, as in this performance Gould does not play repeats in the variations. His own essay accompanies the set by way of a liner-note, and for all its PhD-student idiom its fascination is obvious and intense given its authorship. I have his later performance too, including the broadcast discussion in which he repudiates this performance. It may be that I shall someday come to hear the matter the way he did, but I very much doubt it. This is the performance for me.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2009
Bach's keyboard music can take so many styles and approaches, but none can better Glen Gould's original touch and manner.
He is genius, and seems to have J.S. Bach's ear for phrasing and expression and a great love of his music.
He can however be heard humming to himself as he plays at one or two points.
This does not actually detract from the performance but emphasizes his "empathy".
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 November 2008
If I must choose three recordings of solo piano music which deserve the word 'awe-inspiring', my first choice is this recording of Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould, second choice is Richter's Well-tempered Klavier (Bach - The Well-tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2) and the third is Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Goldberg Variations. Like Rony O'sullivan's 147 in 5 minutes 20 second, I don't think anyone can surpass this 1955 recording by Gould as long as mankind lives on, on this planet!

If you can actually watch how he plays the work on DVD (Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations [1981]), you will be even more amazed!!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2008
Glenn Gould's first recording of the Goldberg Variations is fresh and vibrant. Apparently Bach wrote the music as a kind of extended lullaby, but I've never yet managed to sleep through any of this recording. (Gould's later recording, from 1981, is more soothing.)

On this disk there are also two fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. I think of the E major fugue (BWV 878) as a kind of ultimate idea of fugue: if someone wants to know what a fugue is, this is what they need to hear. Gould takes the E major fugue rather quickly in his recording of the whole of the Well Tempered Clavier, but the recording on this disk is slow and clear and wonderfully resonant.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2013
By rights one should have both of Gould's recordings of what many think is the greatest set of baroque variations. I was a student when this recording and his version of the italian Concerto hit the scene. They caused immense ripples and generated much critical interest.
Do they stand up well today nearly 60 years later? Well apart from the fact that most people now expect them to be performed on the harpsichord, I would say yes, they do. One tends to forget the instrument choices by the time you are into the second variation and begin to enjoy them for what they are--insightful and technically brilliant performances of an immortal work. Julian MIncham
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2011
I don't normally take exception to the odd bit of background noise, but there is quite a bit of humming, hissing and the occasional thump in this recording. Yes, it was a landmark recording. Yes, Gould was an eccentric genius. But should that be an excuse? There are many other recordings of this work that have been made in the 50+ years since the original record was made, so why not opt for one of those instead? There have been many fine pianists since Mr. Gould that are just as deserving of a purchase. If you want to buy this version of the Goldberg Variations, don't make it your only one.
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Interviewing a musician on my blog recently (Steve Poltz) about his musical influences threw up some great new music for me to try. I promptly bought a selection of the music he suggested and Glen Gould playing Bach: The Goldberg Variations was one of the of these.

This is a pared back recording of Gould playing each short piece in turn and the sound of just Gould and a piano is especially soothing. The playing is technically proficient and showcases Gould's skill and nuanced touch to full effect.

This has a selection of outtakes at the end as well where you can hear Gould recording some tracks and receiving some guidance from the producer. You can also hear Gould (who has Aspergers syndrome) humming along in the background, which to my mind actually adds to the recording. Some people don't like this, but I feel it adds a human touch to what could be quite a clinical piece otherwise.

This is the remastered 1955 recording which launched Gould's talents to the wider world and whilst there isn't much new for those who have the existing performance, the sound here is clear and crisp and the outtakes add a certain element, even if just for curiosity.

Poltz recommended this as his ideal dinner party background music and I am inclined to agree. It is subtle, but with enough depth to reflect upon if you so wish. It is unobtrusive and meticulously played and if you wish to give this a try I can heartily recommend it. I have enjoyed it immensely since I bought it and anticipate continuing to do so over the coming years.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 30 August 2014
For a recording made in 1955 the sound on this disc is pretty good. Small wonder that this version has been used in at least 3 of the Hannibal Lector films. But there's more to this then Variation 30. Bach originally wrote his Goldberg variations for Harpsichord but the transition to piano does no disservice to these brilliant compositions (and tbh I'm not really a big an of harpsichord). Admittedly though this is not as easy to get into as some of Bach's concertos (speaking as a relative newcomer) as it is purely the one instrument but if you love Chopin and piano music in general an essential purchase.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2010
...namely, many, many better versions. The one good thing about this one in comparison with his later version is that he had not yet brought moaning along to the fine art he was later to achieve. The bad is everything else. Gould's dazzling virtuosity is certainly on show, but there's more to great music than playing a lot of notes very quickly. Gould simply plays some of this far, far too fast. He gives the music no time to breathe. As a result, you get a tinny, mechanical rendition as it it were a musical box (or an LP played at 45 rpm), devoid of phrasing and emotion. I guess this received such a reception because it was the first time that anyone had recorded it on a piano.

There are so many better piano versions than this (his own later version, moaning notwithstanding, Hewitt, Perahia), and this is only worth acquiring for historical interest. I have the feeling I may never play it again. As another reviewer says, the price is about right.
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