While Glenn Gould's 1955 debut recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations has attained legendary status, there are many devoted fans who rank the 1981 recording just as highly, even though it offers a dramatically different interpretation. This album was made shortly before the pianist's premature death at age 50, so it is significant for being his last recording; indeed, the opening measures of the Aria are carved on Gould's headstone, in final recognition of the work's importance to him, so these two recordings may be regarded as bookends to the pianist's extraordinary career. Gould's tempos are slower and more measured in the 1981 performance, and the observance of some repeats here also differs from the earlier version. On the whole, the 1981 performance is reflective and carefully considered, in contrast with the technical brilliance and impulsive energy of the first. Gould's background humming is common to both Goldbergs, and even though the technology existed at the time of this recording to remove it, Gould kept it in, for fear of losing the piano's full sound. This eccentricity may be off-putting to some listeners, but there are so many fine points in Gould's playing that it must be overlooked to appreciate the true value of his playing and his understanding of Bach, which is original by any standard. Columbia's reproduction is crisp and clear, in keeping with Gould's wishes.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)|