Brooklyn-based pianist Beth Levin here offers a reading of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, that's greater than the sum of its parts. This is not just a version of the Goldberg Variations on piano, but one that unashamedly disregards its origins on the harpsichord, with old-school heavy pedaling and other pianistic effects that would have made Liszt proud. Levin applies the resources of her concert grand to the differentiation of each individual variation, and even of passages within variations, in ways of which Bach could never have dreamed. Each variation rests in its own world, with long pauses on the final notes and in between. Her musings on the piano are accompanied in the booklet by detailed blow-by-blow descriptions of her interpretive and technical decisions, and the interpretations in general run from heavily Romantic to downright extreme. It's not for everybody, but there's something appealing about the performance, even for those who would rather hear the Goldberg Variations on the instrument for which they were written. Levin seems to be struggling with the music in the best sense of the word, veering close to the edge in the crossed-hand passages, striving for long arcs of poetic unity, attempting to penetrate to the essence of the music in pianism and prose. The Goldberg Variations are indeed extreme, and it was because Glenn Gould realized this that his recordings live on. Levin's interpretation, although quite dissimilar to Gould's, has some of the same caution-to-the-winds quality. The engineering on the disc is above average for the Centaur label.
J.S. Bach: The Goldberg Variations Review
by James Manheim
|Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)|