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Dip Your Ears, No. 102 (Goldberg Variations)

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Goldberg Variations
Ragna Schirmer
Berlin Classics / Edel

Ragna Schirmer seems to approach the Goldberg Variations with a touch of hesitance in the Aria, but when she plays the arpeggiated four note chord in the 11th bar of the aria not only top-to-bottom (à la Gould), but with the top note so boldly accentuated as if to announce that she had more in mind for theses Goldbergs than just a standard run-through, you know she means business. From then on, every note in all the variations continues to support that impression:

Unabashedly pianistic, broad, repeat-taking, and never the sappy, wallowing-romantic cliché-packed type of performance that Simôn Dinnersteen brings to the keyboard (WETA review, ionarts review). Schirmer manages to display a great sense of calm and repose all awhile being vigorous and rhythmically forceful. She doesn’t display the velvety touch of Perahia, or any of the wilfullness of Feltsman (never mind Stadtfeld), or the steady forward momentum that Koroliov establishes. But she creates an immediate sense of personality and conviviality, which is more than can be said about most of the, usually superfluous, additions to the bulging Goldberg market.

This was the debut album on Berlin Classics for Schirmer, who has since gone on to provide surprise bestsellers, like her 2009 album of all of Handel’s keyboard sonatas. Had I heard her Goldberg Variations earlier I might have been less surprised about the consequent success, even if closely confined to Europe and particularly her native Germany. The double CD (running 87 minutes and accompanied by a fine essay by Ewa Burzawa) has been re-released this month in an attractive digi-pack. Not a must-have, when there are so many worthy Goldberg Variations on the piano, but a "great-to-have".


ecm said...

Will you please list some "must-have" Goldberg recordings? I'm curious to hear your picks!

jfl said...

We've been pretty vocal about the Goldbergs... it's surprising we don't have our own ionarts topic category for them. (yet)

Here are a few samples:

Best Recordings of 2009 (Rheinberger-Reger)

Goldberg Variations (Harpsichord, mostly)

More Goldberg Variations (Feltsman)

Goldberg Variations Variations (Transcriptions)

Goldberg Variations, Pregnant with Meaning (Dinnersteen)

In any case, what are you looking at? Piano? Harpsichord?

Hantai II and (a new recording on Linn:) Matthew Halls are two choices I'd not turn down for GVs on the Cembalo... although I secretly await Rousset re-recording it on Ambroise. I'd be on that, like the white on rice.

For the Piano (apart from 'everybody-has-it-Gould'):
Perahia, Koroliev... maybe Lifschitz or Schirmer, maybe Schiff II (not I!)

The Two Piano Rheinberger-Reger version is a MUST, though.

jfl said...

...we do now: Goldberg Variations. (Not completely indexed yet, but we'll get there.)