Benjamin-Joseph Steens' period-style performance on clavichord of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations is an intensely intimate take on this famous work, though it is possibly too quiet and ethereal for the liking of many listeners. The instrument Steens plays is a modern replica by Joris Potvlieghe, based on an 18th century design, and its sound is very delicate and nuanced, so setting the volume for playing this recording is a central issue. Track 33 is a test excerpt for finding the correct playback level, recorded at an extremely low volume, and the listener is asked not to exceed the setting where the keyboard just becomes audible, lest the instrument's true tone colors be lost when playing the full recording. In actuality, the low recording level throughout practically forces the listener to raise the volume a bit higher than that to hear anything at all, but along with the higher volume is an increase of ambient noise, which resembles a hissing sound, even though this is an all-digital recording that has no tape hiss. Because of the instrument's soft sound and evanescent timbres, this recording seems to be aimed at audiophiles with state-of-the-art equipment and Baroque specialists with an interest in re-creating the era's instruments. But most other listeners will find that it takes more patience to get through than other interpretations, even on harpsichord. To this end, Steens' playing is masterly and subtle, so it is worth hearing with allowances made for the tricky sound.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Goldberg Variations, BWV 988|