Charles Rosen’s Goldbergs

Walt Mundkowsky

[October 2013.]

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Johann Sebastian BACH: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741). Charles Rosen (pno). Newton Classics 8802206. Distributed in the US by Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/).

Even with 217 other Goldbergs in the catalog, I’m glad Charles Rosen’s is back (as of Sept. 24).

It first appeared in a 1969 Columbia Odyssey box with the three- and six-voice Ricercars from the Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue (“The Last Keyboard Works”). Finding three unwarped LPs in the same box was a challenge nearly equal to that posed by the music! The major items reached Sony CDs, but issued in a way that suggested ignorance of their stature.

Rosen’s Goldbergs filled three of the six sides. The 75:53 timing shouldn’t lead one to expect a leisurely trip; he takes all repeats.* Actually, his tempos are brisk, even impetuous – as befits a clear-eyed Beethovenian. He refuses to sentimentalize the “Black Pearl” variation, and is often more poised than sprightly. Knowledgeable about Baroque conventions but never imprisoned by them, Rosen’s fingers are in splendid form. Such cultivated, Apollonian work wasn’t the norm back then (or now, clearly), but after Landowska and Gould, the Goldbergs were established.

No indication that Newton Classics remastered this; it sounds fine. Notes are generic. Like Sony’s 1992 disc, it’s a shame Rosen’s elegant annotations weren’t employed.

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His The Art of Fugue is the second CD in Bach: The Keyboard Album (Sony SB2K 63231, 1997). Long gone, but ArkivMusic markets a dub.

The six-voice Ricercar (Rosen termed it “the greatest fugue ever written”) is on Greatest Hits Baroque Piano (Sony MLK 68455, 1995).

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*“The repeats not only bring out one beauty of the work, as each part of each variation faces both ways, backwards and forwards, with a different grace and a different meaning each time; they also give a spaciousness to each piece that was certainly intended.”

– from Charles Rosen’s original notes

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equipment

Bryston BCD-1 player – Acoustic Revive XLR interconnects – Schiit Mjolnir headphone amp – Ergo AMT (Heil) headset.