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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
Rob Barnett
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Editor Emeritus
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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg-Variationen: Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen BWV 988 (1742) [74:44]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
rec. 31 March - 3 April 2009, Kathedrale Dresden (Hofkirche)
CYBELE 030.802
Experience Classicsonline

Ever since the release of the motion picture Silence of the Lambs, the Goldberg Variations must be considered by millions as the most famous piece that Bach composed for the piano. Bach did not write them for that instrument, but the number of pianists that have recorded them exceeds by far performances on the double keyboard cembalo, the instrument of Bach’s choice.

It seems logical that another multiple keyboard instrument, the organ, should be a natural second choice for performances of Bach’s masterpiece. After all, the Goldbergs were his only set of variations for the cembalo though he produced several others for the organ, including those on Vom Himmel hoch - orchestrated by Igor Stravinsky - and multiple Choral partitas.

That said, performances of the Goldbergs on the organ have been few and far between. Jean Guillou and Käthe von Tricht spring to mind though critical response has not been friendly. The stolid tone of the organ is blamed, but that is an argument that is only valid after listening to the shadings made possible by the modern concert grand. The cembalo certainly does not allow for such dynamic niceties.

What does matter is the acoustic. When young Goldberg played these pieces to put his master to sleep there was no reverberation time. Organs are found in churches, not ante-chambers, and accordingly one has to put up with a lot of echo - in this case at least five seconds.

That brings us to this recording, made in the Hofkirche Dresden, on one of the most beautiful pipe organs ever made. Gottfried Silbermann, much admired by J.S. Bach, constructed it in 1755. It miraculously survived World War 2 and was restored to its former glory in 2002. This recording makes a glorious showcase for the many colours that it yields.

Martin Schmeding has decided to make this a performance in the grand manner. Organ, space and score work together in an experience that is reminiscent of Clavierübung III. To make this an exciting trip into the insides of instrument and composition, detailed comments and registrations are provided in the booklet. Given the five seconds reverberation time, this is not for the faint-hearted and organ aficionados will relish the infinite shadings of Silbermann’s masterful creation, Cybele’s great sound and Schmeding’s marvellous musicianship.

Siebe Riedstra

see also review by Dominy Clements



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