July 2006

Bach - Goldberg Variations
András Schiff, piano
Decca 475 7508
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

András Schiff recorded quite a bit of Bach at the beginning of his affiliation with Decca nearly 25 years ago. His 1982 recording of the Goldberg Variations was the first installment to reach me, and it was powerfully impressive without straining to be. While other pianists had succeeded in rendering irrelevant the question of which keyboard instrument can do justice to Bach’s works, Schiff seemed to demonstrate that Bach, in a rare example of farsightedness, must have conceived this piece for the specific properties of the modern piano. If we hear less in the way of interpretive "personality" than we do in the famous recordings of this work by Glenn Gould, it might be said that we are simply less aware of the interpreter and thus may feel more directly involved with Bach.

In any event, Schiff’s unfailing tastefulness is never a trade-off for involvement or vitality, both of which are felt in communicative abundance. As he takes repeats in both halves of every one of the variations, his performance, at 62:22, fills the CD (released in Decca’s "The Originals" series) without crowding it, and the warmth of the sonic focus that was such an appealing factor on the original LP sides is well preserved here. The illuminating annotation by Schiff’s mentor George Malcolm, a celebrated harpsichordist who made a compelling argument for Bach-on-the-piano, is reprinted in full, and that’s another plus.