J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Goldberg Variations, Italian Concerto, French Overture, Italian Variations

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Igor Kipnis
Individual Works:Disc 1

French Overture-Partita in b minor, BWV 831
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
9-17. Aria, Variations 1-15

Disc 2

1-10. Part 2, Variations 16-30
11. Aria da capo
Variations in the Italian Style, BWV 989
12-22. Aria and Variations 1-10
Italian Concerto in F-Major, BWV 971
23-25. Andante, Presto

Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Seraphim Classics
Catalog Number:74501
Year Released/Recorded:1973
Total Playing Time:73'37''; 70'34''
Comments:Daniel Ponder said:

This, Set of 2 CD's was only priced at a mere $12.97! I am rather attached to the harpsichord used in this recording. Why you might ask, because
it reminds me of the first Harpsichord I played on
(at the age of 13.6) a 1978 Oxford? across two manuals. On this cd you will hear an alternate voicing which sound like a lute. I enjoy this cd very much and I recomend it to anyone who wants a cheaply priced cd with wonderful playing.

Jan Hanford said:

From the vaults of the 1970's comes the most obnoxious performance on harpsichord of the Goldberg Variations I've ever heard. Kipnis' excessive ornamentation is a distraction from the variations and makes a mess out of some of them. It's a shame, because his virtuosity could have produced an exceptional recording. I'm sure he has some academic justification for it (they always do) . The bottom line is: I did not enjoy it. Strangely, he plays some kind of alternate version of the Aria. I think making so personal a mark on so familiar a work is an unpleasant distraction, not an innovation.

The use of the alternate stops on the harpsichord is very enjoyable which, IMO is not used enough on current recordings. However, the harpsichord is based on one of those huge German models that sounds like it could have been used on the Addams Family. Sometimes it sounds nice (i.e. the second movement of the Italian Concerto), sometimes it sounds too thick (i.e. the other two movements of the Italian Concerto).

Also, some marketing idiot decided it would be a good idea to split the Goldberg Variations between the two cd's, sandwiching them in between additional works. The additional works are also a mixed bag, with the huge harpsichord sounding pretty dense in places. Again, Kipnis' excessive ornamentation ruins what would have otherwise been an outstanding performance.

Brock MacDonald said:

(I'm essentially responding to your very negative comments on this recording, Ms. Hanford!)

It's true that Kipnis ornaments the repeats of the Goldberg Variations rather extravagantly--probably more than any other performer on disc--but I find the results fascinating, often exhilerating, and often just plain fun. This is an important quality in the Goldberg Variations, many of which are very witty but are all too often played with dull, reverent "correctness."

As for the harpsichord--true enough, it sounds a bit thick in the Italian Concerto and the French Overture, but that is clearly the result of poor recording; the Goldberg and Italian Variations sound just fine, in fact they stand up very well in comparison to many digital harpsichord recordings. (This two-CD compilation derives from LPs originally recorded at different times and, I suspect, in different venues.) Personally, I delight in the organ-like variety and richness of sound Kipnis gets out of his instrument. The trend for many years now has been to sneer at large, elaborate harpsichords like this, but they do have historical validity: a number of 18th-century builders in Germany made such instruments, 16" stops and all. IMO it's a pity that the reaction against the genuinely awful monster harpsichords played by pioneers like Wanda Landowska has led most present-day musicians to reject historically-accurate large harpsichords of the kind Kipnis plays here--a sad example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In sum, then, this is a recording that will not be to everyone's taste, but readers (especially harpsichord fanciers) should hear it for themselves. I own five recordings of the Goldberg Variations and have heard many more, and this one's unique.

Tom Arabia said:

Bach was an improviser. We can bet that practically every time he performed a piece it was different. Much of the Goldberg Variations uses jest, humor, music of the common tongue of his day, and thus not necessarily as formal as the modern tradition might present it -- making it even more apro pos of improvisation, in my opinion. I can sympathize with not liking a particular recording for such and such a reason that doesn't suit one's taste, and that of course is fine. But it's a trend among modern performers and listeners of so-called classical music to utterly disparage moving away from whatever may be more or less precisely indicated by the page, and ipso facto insisting on being slave to it. To be so insistant is to bury the spirit of the composers and performers in pseudo-traditionalist dogma. I congratulate Igor Kipnis for unearthing this delightful spirit of the music, and for agitating those who would keep it burried.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Daniel Ponder
  • Brock MacDonald
  • Tom Arabia
And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:09/01/2001