Bridge Records proudly launches a series of Garrick Ohlsson recordings with this entry, Bach: Goldberg Variations -- Handel: Suite No. 6. As the umbrella title for this disc is given as Garrick Ohlsson Edition, one might suspect that these recordings have been around the block before, as such series usually have some retrospective purpose. Actually, they have not; this performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations was recorded in 1999 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and the Handel Suite No. 2 comes from a 2001 date at the Performing Arts Center at SUNY in Purchase, NY. Although Ohlsson's recorded output is enormous and spreads across several labels, it appears as though he has never before essayed the Bach, nor the Handel, on disc.
Ohlsson's Goldbergs are sensitively done and utilize a soft touch in combination with a very even-keel approach to tempi. The vagaries of expression and flexible speed experienced in Glenn Gould's two famous studio recordings of this work are not for Ohlsson, rather it is a reliable and solid performance of a familiar work put forward in a clear-cut manner. The Handel Suite demonstrates a bit more variability, as the slow movements are truly very slow, and the fast ones fast indeed. The touch remains soft, and although it is not quite as soft as that employed by Keith Jarrett in his best-selling recording of Handel's suites for ECM. Jarrett didn't vary the tempi much from movement to movement, whereas Ohlsson makes the distinction quite clear. These are very satisfactory performances, and the recordings, although made at two different places, are well matched enough that if you didn't know their provenance, you wouldn't know the difference between the two.
Given the sheer glut of Goldbergs available, it appears Bridge has picked a rather tough row to hoe to send off its new series with Garrick Ohlsson. Future volumes in this edition promise a welcome continuation of his Beethoven sonata cycle, left hanging in mid-air when the pianist separated himself from the New York-based label Arabesque. Ohlsson is such a tremendous artist that almost anything from his is to be cherished, without regard to the literature involved, and given his typically busy concert schedule, Bach: Goldberg Variations -- Handel: Suite No. 6 and the successor issues in the Garrick Ohlsson Edition should have no trouble in finding an audience.