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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Goldberg Variations BWV 988 [38:00]
Glenn Gould (piano)
rec. 10, 14-16 June 1955, Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City, USA

Experience Classicsonline

In 1955 Glenn Gould was just 22. By this young age he had already achieved a great deal and this illustrious recording was to launch his career into realms unimaginable. Taken down at Columbia’s famous recording studio, with its 100 feet floor-space and ceilings, this was an astounding achievement for such a young man. Gould’s return to the same work in 1981 was the last production made by this famous studio.
This CD is a “digital re-mastering” of the original, however this historically important recording has been available on CD for quite some time; Sony’s was released in 1992. One must presume that this Audiophile Classics disc has a better sound quality but the Sony recording is perfectly good in its own terms.
The performance is so youthful! The fast movements are very fast, there are no repeats and some of the louder playing is very aggressive. It doesn’t make for very good background music; the performance is so brave and engaging that it is impossible to concentrate on anything else. The tempo and truculence add to the excitement one feels when listening. The 1981 re-recording is toned down in these respects. Some critics interpret this as Gould thinking better of his younger self and that he was unhappy with this 1955 effort. This is not necessarily the case: all performers interpret pieces differently each time they perform, otherwise live performances would become redundant. The brief notes in the CD booklet describe how Gould’s particular gift was his articulation which enables the listener to discern each contrapuntal part therefore exposing the underlying structure. This is more obvious in later recordings but Variation 24 on the present disc is particularly well articulated and balanced, the middle part is just as prominent as the others. The opening Aria is much, much slower on the 1981 recording, Gould really pulls every ounce of emotion out of it. The 1955 recording doesn’t attempt this and the Aria is played far more simply. Who is to say which is better?
Overall, it is always a pleasure to listen to Glenn Gould’s recordings and the sound quality on this one is certainly good. It is also reasonably priced and nicely presented.
Hannah Parry-Ridout 

Masterwork Index: Goldberg variations

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