- Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)
Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations set the gold standard for interpreting Bach's extraordinary cycle on the piano -- until Murray Perahia came along with his astonishing 2000 release, that is, and amazed Bach lovers with his transcendent playing. András Schiff's Bach credentials are also well known, and his Goldbergs, which seem closer in spirit to Gould's than Perahia's, deserve a great amount of praise as well. Schiff recorded the Goldbergs once before on a well-received Decca release, and listening to this newer version, a live recording on ECM, it's easy to understand his desire to set them down on disc once again. As one would expect with this pianist, his playing is crisp and dexterous, his touch nimble and astonishingly assured, and he conveys all the liveliness and transparency of Gould, but without the distracting eccentricities. Observing all repeats, Schiff gives the music an attractive rhythmic bounce in the faster numbers, aided by some nicely pointed articulations and glisteningly clean ornamentation (check out Variation 1, for example), though he also captures the somber introspection of Variation 25, the Goldbergs' expressive highpoint. In that piece, as in the cycle as a whole, his tempo is a touch faster than Perahia's, and while Perahia's more subtle dynamic shading and greater poetic license in stretching the beat reveals perhaps a more sensitive soul at work, Schiff's unsentimental approach and ringing, bell-like tone will win over many listeners. Schiff divides his Goldbergs into groups, flowing most variations one into the next but pausing after some to offset the beginning of a new section. In the booklet, he offers a window into his thinking by providing a running commentary, variation by variation -- a guided tour of the Goldbergs. It's as compelling an interpretation as any, and the close-up recording (in contrast to Perahia's, which is more spacious) captures Schiff's brilliant playing, as always with ECM, with great presence and clarity.