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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Bach, 14 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Bach; Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (Audio CD)
Charles Rosen was a leading concert pianist and a respected writer about music and literature. This re-release is especially welcome, since most of his recordings were not (re-)issued on CD, and very few titles are still available. The Goldberg Variations was considered by Rosen to be Bach's most successful work in concert performances today, yet the kind of concert in which it can be performed did not exist until about a century after Bach's time, and it had to wait for recognition and acclaim for still another hundred years. In this studio recording as well as in his writings, Rosen reveals a deep structural understanding of this work originally called "Aria with Diverse Variations for a Harpsichord with Two Manuals." The score specifies two manuals (keyboards) for eleven variations, and either one or two manuals for three variations, but with greater difficulty (the interpreter has to manage very demanding hand crossings and "negotiate" with the score in some factually unplayable passages) the work can be performed on a single-manual harpsichord, or in the modern piano. The listener should not expect excessive dynamic variation in Rosen's playing, since he assumed that the use of two manuals does not imply two dynamic levels, but rather two kinds of sonority. While some variations are technically demanding and contrapuntal (rather unfashionable at the time of the work's publication), others are gorgeous dance-like character pieces in the so-called gallant style that often calls for repeats. In the Goldberg Variations the end of each section - moving back to the beginning or forward to the second (or concluding) half - is for Rosen the occasion of much subtlety: while repeating an entire piece in a unit only serves to continue the dance, Rosen favors repeating each half separately to emphasize its symmetry. Ornamentation is essential in baroque music, but Bach's keyboard music needs only little or absolutely none. Rosen resisted the temptation to decorate the repeats.

The sound quality is very good, the CD cover is beautiful (a photo of a piano's strings), but nothing is perfect: the liner notes reproduce old nonsense concerning a German Count's insomnia and his prodigy-child keyboard-playing servant Goldberg etc (give me a break). The liner notes also provide the information that Charles Rosen did not perform the Goldberg Variations live. I suppose there must be a source for this information that nevertheless is not correct if we are to believe Rosen himself: in his book "Piano Notes" (see the footnote on page 164 in the Penguin edition) he tells about a recital in which he "played the Goldberg Variations of Bach, and it was taped for later broadcast by National Public Radio." Thus, Rosen played the Goldberg Variations live at least one time, and maybe the tape is preserved somewhere.

I recommend warmly Charles Rosen's recording of the Goldberg Variations, and I think that even harpsichord enthusiasts should give this CD a chance.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Feb 2014 18:20:28 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Feb 2014 20:26:20 GMT
Mhr says:
Many thanks for your excellent comment. I've ordered a disc.

It's possible to listen to a live recording of Rosen's public recital in New York in 1985 on the Internet, originally broadcast on WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York. You can find it on Google; type "wqxr rosen goldberg". Enjoy!
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