- Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)
The much talked-about German pianist Burkard Schliessmann, after several recordings of Romantic literature, now weighs in with Bach's mighty "Goldberg Variations, BWV 988," taken with all repeats and just deliberately enough that it requires two compact discs to contain the whole. Schliessmann in his Germanically abstruse yet pertinent booklet notes, quotes Glenn Gould several times and has seemingly set out to pick up with the variations where Gould left off. That's a tall order inasmuch as Gould's "Goldberg" recordings, whether you like them or not, derive their value from their ability to transport the listener into Gould's personal universe -- there is no Gould school, and for good reason. Schliessmann's interpretation certainly resembles Gould's in its externals: in the use of the pedals, in the heavy connectedness of the sharply articulated passagework, and in the radically pianistic conception of the work as a whole. He keeps closer to the 1955 Gould recording than to the later one with its tempo extremes, but he has some of the sense of titanic engagement with the work's architecture that the aging Gould had; the music seems to inexorably build over units stretching over several variations and several groups of variations. In any event, Schliessmann's performance is not in any way imitative of either of Gould's -- although it's something of an inversion of the first one. Where Gould focuses on the melody (and hums along with it, which Schliessmann thankfully manages to avoid), it is the bass line that occupies Schliessmann's attention. He puts enough emphasis on the bass that in many variations it's the first thing that catches your attention -- the melody line takes on the status of ornamentation. This, as both Gould and Schliessmann point out, accords with the basic conception of the work -- Bach treats the bass line of the opening Aria as a ground, rather than making (to use an old word) divisions on the tune. Schliessmann conveys the sense of a tough sinew connecting the whole giant set, and leaves himself enough room for plenty of small and often delightful surprises in the right hand. The down side is that the dance rhythms that percolate through the right hand get a bit lost, and the penultimate quodlibet seems oddly unconnected to the rest of the music. If Gould's sparkling renditions had a certain remoteness, Schliessmann seems positively Olympian. And, as much as any pianist since Gould, he is quite simply adding things to the music that Bach could not have imagined. This is nevertheless an ambitious and really spectacular recording of a keyboard masterwork that demands to be heard and can back up its demands. The multichannel Super Audio sound from Germany's Bayer label does full justice to the remarkable level of registral detail in Schliessmann's recording.