Bach: Goldberg Variations (recorded 1955 and 1981) by Glenn Gould have bee re-released in a gorgeous and essential 3-CD set to mark this month’s 70th anniversary of his birth and 20th anniversary of his death —
Glenn Gould’s extraordinary career was bracketed by the Goldberg Variations. It was his first recording of the work, in 1955, that established Gould as a pianistic force of exceptional gifts, while the second studio version he made in 1981 (there is also a Salzburg festival performance from 1957) proved to be his last visit to the recording studio; it was released in September the following year, just days before his sudden death at the age of 50. In the subsequent 20 years, Gould’s reputation and stature as one of the most important pianists of the 20th century have been maintained, and these two recordings especially have achieved near legendary status.
Reissued together now to mark the 20th anniversary of his death, the two recordings of the Goldberg Variations provide a fascinating comparison. The earlier one has been scrupulously remastered for the new album, and sounds more lifelike and immediate than ever before. The set also includes a disc of outtakes from the 1955 sessions as well as an interview Gould gave in 1982, in which he discussed the differences between the two performances. The most startling contrast is in the sheer length of the performances. In 1955 Gould got through the work in 38 minutes, while in 1981 he took 51; in the later account he does observe some repeats (there were none in 1955), but there is also a broadness, a sense of contemplation in a work that clearly meant more to him than any other. Guardian UK