Saturday, January 9, 2010

Goldberg Variations: On Harpsichord, Accordion, Harp, Guitar, Organ, a Wacky Piano and Piano Duo

One of the most fascinating things about Bach's music is that it is open to seemingly unlimited possibilities of interpretations. The Italian Concerto for harpsichord can be turned into a swing jazz trio, and Cantata 140 made a perfect countermelody for A Whiter Shade of Pale. After Glenn Gould's legendary 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations, numerous instrumentalists and ensembles have approached it in so many different manners. Personally I found Murray Perahia's the most satisfying, but there's also many other interesting recordings available on Spotify.

Here's my Spotify playlist of some Goldberg recordings: Variations Goldberg

Céline Frisch's version is the best one on harpsichord I've heard. Denis Patković's accordion version includes a series of musical interludes--specifically conceived for insertion into Bach's score--composed by Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu. The young German pianist Martin Stadtfeld offers arguably the most orthodox performance of BWV988 ever, I can't say that I love it or I'm convinced, but it's definitely not wacky for wacky's sake. I think that any interpretation that stirs the listeners to disagree with the artist in a creative way is worth hearing.

Besides versions played on harp by Catrin Finch, on guitar by Kurt Rodarmer, and on organ by Bernard Lagacé, I also including a very new recording of Max Reger's piano duo arrangement of Goldberg, released in November, 2009. Another recording of this arrangement was selected as the best new recording of 2009 by WETA, here's a quotation on the arrangement:

"There are moments where, in reference to the opera paraphrases of Liszt et al., you might want to re-title: “L’Grand Fantasie d’Goldberg”, but surprisingly few. Instead, the joy is to perk your ears and listen for the often subtle little additions, fourth melodies, staccato octaves added in hushed shades of pianissimo. Even the aria, which is traded among the players but not actually modified, is so captivating that you go from incredulous eyebrow-raising (as you unwrap) to astonished eyebrow-raising as you listen to what’s played."

Of all the artists that yet to release a Goldberg, I look forward to Till Fellner most. His Bach recordings on ECM so far are very pleasing, and here on NPR you can hear him playing a truly graceful Pastoral sonata.

Again here is the full playlist, happy listening, and leave a comment if you have other versions to recommend, or any of these versions drove you mad:)


  1. and who are you to have the right to the opinion?

  2. to Anonymous:

    I guess only when one is able to play the piano like Gould that he/she has the right to say that "Mozart didn't die too early, but too late." Or maybe even Gould shouldn't have said that, should he?

    But as a listener, everyone is entitled to have their own opinion to which piece of work and which recording version they like or dislike. Thanks to Spotify, we can get access to many different interpretations that we're curious to hear, this personal blog just offers my humble opinion and some of my playlists that I think maybe someone might also like to check out.

    Just like that.

    If you're looking for professional guides to classical music, I have listed some very good sites in the "Links" section at the right sidebar:)

  3. There's a great harp one too, but sadly not on Spotify (or CD as far as I know, I heard a concert recording on BBC Radio 3)

  4. Hey - you have the harp one! Well done! But you didn't include the other Gould recording from 1981: