on 25 June 2007
Trevor Pinnock's account of Bach's goldberg variations continues to hold it's place at the top end of this done to death masterpiece.Recorded in 1980 in Paris on a Ruckers harpsichord his performance and the sound recording have withstood the rigors of time very well indeed.
Since this performance was committed to tape over 30 years ago i feel it has been (slightly) bettered however by Lisa Crawford (2000),David Ponsford (2000), Ketil Haugsand (2001) and Orhan Memed (2006) but Trevor Pinnock's reading is still up there and for me it was the first really superior harpsichord performance of the Goldberg Variations.
New notes added 21/4/2013 - My favourite Goldberg Variations is now by Steven Devine on chandos - see review.
This classic account of the Goldberg variations by Trevor Pinnock remains my favourite harpsichord version by a long way. Now more than 30 years old, it has lost none of its vigour, delight and depth of insight. Pinnock has established himself as one of the great interpreters and performers of Baroque music, particularly Bach, and this recording is a cornerstone of that reputation. Even then he had an fabulous understanding of the music and the technique to allow that understanding to shine through. Each variation is beautifully judged and is a joy to listen to, the Aria has a limpid loveliness which is not easy to achieve on the harpsichord and the whole thing is a joy. The recorded sound is excellent and allows Pinnock's performance to really shine.
If you have a rooted objection to the harpsichord you may not enjoy this disc, but I would still urge you to try it - it is a revelation in what can be achieved on the instrument. I have a number of very fine recordings of the Goldbergs but this remains one of my very favourites and I recommend it very warmly.
This performance of the Goldberg Variations has been in my collection since 1985 and it is still the one that I find gives complete satisfaction. The recording still sounds excellent. The addition of the Italian Concerto and reduction in price makes this issue even more attractive for new purchasers.
Essentially, the music sounds right by being played on the harpsichord. This is especially the case in all the faster and moderate speed variations when the inherent rhythmical nature of the instrument comes into its own and allows the compositional structure and detail to be heard more clearly and more precisely. Pinnock, at those points, keeps a tight grip on the rhythm well aware that by doing this he is playing to the strengths of those variations.
When it comes to the slower sections of the work he includes a degree of rubato which is one way of dealing with the instrument's inability to sustain notes as well as a piano for instance. It is at these points that a pianist can score simply through a greater range of touch. The remarkably fine performance by Evgeni Koroliov on a Medici DVD made in 2008 is an object lesson on how to play this music on the piano, mostly because, like Pinnock, he allows the music to speak directly and does not get distracted from that concept by intrusive interpretive distortions.
The perfect solution to collecting recordings of these endlessly satisfying works is perhaps to have one fine example of a harpsichord performance plus one on a piano. In this way it is possible to get the best of both worlds.
I would suggest therefore, that for harpsichord enthusiasts, the Pinnock version will take some beating and should remain a strong consideration. Piano enthusiasts may wish to investigate Evgeni Koroliov who is equally satisfying in an undemonstrative presentation that concentrates on the musical values.
on 21 September 2012
Of the many recordings of the Goldberg Variations that I own, this is the one that I return to the most. Trevor Pinnock's playing is perfectly authentic and very enjoyable to listen to. Each variation is well paced and the progression to each is smooth - making it more of a wonderful musical journey than listening to a recording. The instrument, a two manual Ruckers harpsichord, is an inspired and authentic choice. Everything comes together in this recording and listening to it is an immensly satisfying experience.
Many years ago, I listened to my parents' recording of the Goldbergs played by Wanda Landowska. She was a pioneer of reviving this work. I don't know whether it was the primitive recorded sound or the rather elephantine sound of the Landowska's harpsichord or just the confusing array of notes but I just hated that recording. I wondered whether it would always be a trial listening to a harpsichord in this work.
Since them, I have acquired both of the recordings that Glenn Gould released of the Goldbergs from 1955 and 1981. They are obviously great recordings which I must listen to again.
However, this review is about Trevor Pinnock's recording, which I have just listened to a couple of times. I have to say that I found this recording mindblowing in terms of virtuosic keyboard playing and musicality. I was touched by the tender moments and taken aback by the full force of the instrument when Bach fills the texture to the full. There is a rich variety of sounds on display indicated the range of sonorities the harpsichord is capable of making. Trevor Pinnock is also a pretty awesome player who frequently amazed me with his virtuosity.
I am quite happy to accept the value of a solo harpsichord in this work and would recommend it alongside the Glenn Gould recordings.