MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

alternatively AmazonUK AmazonUS


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Aria with 30 Variations, BWV 988 “Goldberg Variations” (1741-42) [83:06]
Burkard Schliessmann (piano)
rec. 17-19 July 2007, Teldex Studio Berlin
BAYER RECORDS BR100326 [38:06 + 45:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

Someone once said that if Dublin were ever destroyed, it could be reconstructed from James Joyce’s Ulysses. I think that if the entire body of Western Civilization were suddenly snatched away from us, save one work of art, we could rebuild a good chunk of it, if that one remaining work were Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It transcends mere musical expression - though it is saturated with that - by incorporating philosophical, mathematical, architectural, rhetorical and even religious ideas in a density that is unmatched by any other work. The variable factor in rebuilding the western world from the Goldbergs would be: Which performance to use? The unperformed score itself is only a blueprint for a world awaiting creation. 

The world according to Rosalyn Tureck’s Goldbergs would be monumental, built out of marble columns and wide-open spaces. Vladimir Feltsman’s would be a topsy-turvy house painted audacious colors, with the occasional door opening on the top floor into mid-air and some of the windows underground. Young Glenn Gould’s world would be nothing more than a piano in a warm, late-night room. Older Gould’s reconstructed world would be nothing but clouds, light and midnight sun. Murray Perahia’s world would be one of poise, grace and piety, an entire city of interconnected, elegant buildings. 

As much as I love all those performances, I had never found myself forced to consider this: Where is the human element in all these worlds? But the recent Bayer recording by Burkard Schliessmann dares to put the question front and center, and in the process creates a distinctive profile, one that not everyone will like; see Dominy Clements’ decidedly unimpressed review

Great artists can polarize, and the intensely thoughtful Schliessmann has never shied away from pursuing deep and subtle shades of expression where others play to the gallery. The pianist ups the ante here by daring to bring his connotation-rich, philosophical style to a piece that is considered by some a sacred tome not open to experimentation. Clements’ review shows a positive antipathy for Schliessmann’s no-stone-unturned approach, but for listeners who don’t mind his questioning of every old assumption, Schliessmann can be revelatory. 

What strikes me throughout this recording is the sense that Schliessmann is always searching for what is conversational in this music. Where Gould and Tureck awe the listener, Schliessmann makes these thirty variations sound human and approachable. This is the recording for all those who have previously found the Goldberg Variations too abstract and unfriendly. Yet there are layers of things going on, too, which can satisfy the connoisseur hoping to find new discoveries. 

While this is worlds away from being a period-style performance, Schliessmann nonetheless adapts some historically-informed practices, such as playing runs of continuous short-value notes unevenly, giving those parts a gentle swing. It’s something that isn’t done very often, certainly not by mid-twentieth century pianists like Gould and Tureck, who were trained to play notes as written, as opposed to the natural swing that used to be commonplace in classical music until theorists squeezed the life out of it. Listen, for instance, to Variation 1, where Schliessmann jettisons the usual stiff-collar approach and instead gives the passing figurations a gentle swing. At first hearing, it may even sound unintentionally uneven, but then one can always go listen for comparison to the deadly even scales and runs Schliessmann deploys in his Godowsky arrangements of Strauss waltzes or his Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs on his DVD (ArtHaus Musik 100455). 

Another example of how human Schliessmann makes this music sound is Variation 23, where Schliessmann finds wit and shape that others only hint at. Those who expect their baroque keyboard music to have the regularity of a sewing machine might not like the way Schliessmann shades the rhythms, but I love it. He makes every polyphonic voice independent, as if it weren’t one person playing all these notes, but rather a small orchestra of pianists, each one an individual. Schliessmann’s Goldbergs are populated with dozens, perhaps hundreds of such characters. Friends, enemies, teachers, laborers, family, lovers, they are all here, living life. No other Goldberg, for better or worse, is more full of personal, human touches than this one. Some would call it a romantic approach, but I’m not convinced that is true. I think that the true romantic approach is Perahia’s. For all Perahia’s lucid, Mozartian poise, he shapes the entire work with a dramatic, programmatic sense. Schliessmann instead lives inside each variation, more interested in each section’s inner life than in pushing the whole piece toward a climactic point. This thoughtful characterization naturally gives Variation 29 and Variation 30, the quodlibet, layers of richness that make them grand summations, even as they amble comfortably along. 

Though Schliessmann is often identified with romantic piano music, he’s no romantic. He’s onto something new, an artistic “ism” that hasn’t been named yet. If score literalism can be taken at this point as a very twentieth-century phenomenon, it seems that a new artistic philosophy is emerging in the twenty-first. If the old school, whether it be Gustav Leonhardt’s Bach or Pierre Boulez’s Mahler, is based on the denotations of the score and historical documentation, the emerging new school is one of connotations, finding the connections no one ever noticed before, both within a piece of music, and outside it as well. Schliessmann’s Goldbergs teem with life because he plays not like someone who spends 12 hours a day practicing (which, for all I know, he may), but rather like someone who reads books, talks with friends, views art, travels to historic sites and, simply, lives. Schliessmann may be a musician, but more importantly, he’s a human being. 

Like Schliessmann’s other Bayer recordings, this disc is given gorgeous, high-resolution sound. I had a little trouble getting my Sony SACD player to recognize the hybrid layers, but once it did, I found lively, three-dimensional sound in the multichannel layer. The regular CD layer is quite good in its own right, richer and warmer than any standard CD from more than ten years ago. Incidentally, the performance is spread over two discs, but it’s priced as one. Though it is in fact possible to fit more than 80 minutes on one disc, the amount of manufacturing defects skyrockets when that is done. Instead, Bayer wisely opted to split the work at its natural break, leaving two discs of around 40 minutes, which can be manufactured with virtually no defects. Since the piece naturally cleaves between Variation 15 and the “Ouverture,” as Bach designated Variation 16, it doesn’t bother me in the least. The accompanying booklet also contains sizeable essays by Schliessmann himself, who offers much food for thought as he talks about the theoretical and practical aspects of both playing and understanding the variations.

In summary, this is a Goldberg Variations for those who want to get inside the piece and live inside it, instead of admiring it from afar as it sits on a marble pedestal. Recommended warmly for those adventurous enough to enjoy hearing an old favourite transformed into something new.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

see also Review by Dominy Clements



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.