Gustav Leonhardt has made several recordings of the
Goldberg Variations, spanning the several decades of his long, illustrious
career. This recording, made in 1953, was his first, and marks a special
point in the history of "authentic" performances of baroque
Limited by the constraints of fitting the entire set
of variations on one CD, Leonhardt cuts out the repeats, yet plays many
of these variations at tempi far slower than most performers, and slower
than his later recordings. Actually, the opening aria sounds very un-Bachish
in this recording, and the first variation surprises by its slow tempo.
Yet one must remember that there were few recordings of the Goldberg
Variations on any instrument at the time this album was released.
It gets better as it goes on, and the fifth variation,
for example, bubbles with energy, as does the eighth. Some of the faster
variations sound quite good, and the slow, introspective 25th variation
is excellent as well. Yet these tempi show a lack of unity in the overall
vision of the work, a unity that Leonhardt developed in his later recordings.
Overall, this is far from Leonhardts finest recording
of the Goldbergs. His later recordings, such as that on Deutsche Harmonia
Mundi, are far better. Here, he was a young harpsichordist playing boldly
and inaugurating a new era. Kudos go to Leonhardt for his efforts in
bringing Bach into the 20th century and restoring a great deal of his
music to a much closer approximation of the way it was intended to be
Yet one key element mars this recording: the sound
of the harpsichord is so tinny, so lacking in depth and relief that
it is difficult to listen to. Part of this is because of the recording
techniques of the 1950s, but part is simply that the instrument was
not that good. A great deal of progress has been made since, and one
no longer hears this type of sound.
This recording has historical interest, since it was
the first Goldberg Variations on harpsichord of the "modern era",
yet Leonhardt is far from his prime, and the sound of the harpsichord
is relatively disappointing. A disc for collectors of historical recordings,
perhaps, but not for casual listeners.