J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Goldberg Variations

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Trevor Pinnock
Individual Works:Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Archiv Produktion
Catalog Number:415 130-2
Year Released/Recorded:1980
Total Playing Time:60:45
Comments:Review by Jan Hanford:

Recording: perfect analog to digital master
Performance: outstanding

The Goldberg Variations is one of those works that should be in everyone's Bach music collection. Their level of complexity is balanced by a musical intimacy that makes them universally enjoyable.

Everyone has recorded this work, it seems to be a measuring stick of every performer's abilities. Some are excellent; some fail. Trevor Pinnock, known mostly as conductor of the exquisite English Concert, performs here with fantastic energy, precision and charm. I had always listened to the Goldbergs on piano, my personal preference to harpsichord. But I was delighted to discover when listening to this recording that the work sounds completely different. The division of the counterpoint between two manuals on the harpsichord brings a clarity to the intricacy of the music that is undeniably fascinating. Trevor Pinnock's special understanding of Bach's music is evident here and his performance is remarkable. Speed, clarity, sensitivity; all the components necessary in a great performance with no strange interpretive nuances getting in the way.

The recording itself is crystal clear ADD with the microphone appropriately close to the harpsichord. There is no ambient echo which is often distracting and, sometimes, annoying in harpsichord recordings. This recording is so perfect it sounds like Trevor Pinnock is in your living room performing for you.

So, which instrumental version of the Goldberg Variations should you own? All of them. I have recordings on harpsichord, piano, guitar, string orchestra, two pianos. They are all wonderful and each presents a unique perspective and almost sounds like a different work. I never get tired of listening to any of them.

Jack Botelho said:

I was very excited to bring home this recording and listen to it for the first few times. However, I became disappointed with the overall heavy-handed performance and now consider this recording unlistenable. The opening aria and first three variations are played with a delicacy and precision that teases the listener into believing this is the best version ever, but from then on the playing becomes loud and the beautiful 1646 Ruckers harpsichord tone turns monstrous to my ear. An exquisite harpsichord such as this one, played sensitively by the genius Pinnock, should leave no listener in doubt as to the most appropriate instrument for this music.

  • jack botelho
  • And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
  • Date First Submitted:12/09/1998