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J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations (CD+DVD)

4.6 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 30, 2013
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Editorial Reviews

Nonesuch presents pianist Jeremy Denk's recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations. A companion DVD accompanies the album and contains video liner notes with Denk demonstrating passages on the piano as he explains certain details of the iconic piece. The beloved Bach work has long been a staple of Denk's repertoire and his performances have received critical praise. The New York Times has remarked on his "profound affinity with Bach, " and the Philadelphia Inquirer called Denk's performance of this piece "mesmerizing, " noting that his "Bach is expressive, but not fussy or overthought. Technically unbothered by the work's more explosive spots and remarkably fluid in its scurrying passage work, he was able to make connections between and among bits of material that sometimes occur many seconds apart. "

Note: Disc 1 is a CD and Disc 2 is a DVD and would only play in compatible players.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Aria 3:46
  2. Variation 1 1:49
  3. Variation 2 1:24
  4. Variation 3: Canon on the unison 2:11
  5. Variation 4 1:07
  6. Variation 5 1:19
  7. Variation 6: Canon on the second 1:13
  8. Variation 7 1:42
  9. Variation 8 1:40
  10. Variation 9: Canon on the third 1:48
  11. Variation 10: Fughetta 1:29
  12. Variation 11 1:46
  13. Variation 12: Canon on the fourth 2:22
  14. Variation 13 5:05
  15. Variation 14 1:58
  16. Variation 15: Canon on the fifth 4:07
  17. Variation 16: Overture 2:51
  18. Variation 17 1:52
  19. Variation 18: Canon on the sixth 1:25
  20. Variation 19 :55
  21. Variation 20 1:58
  22. Variation 21: Canon on the seventh 2:54
  23. Variation 22: Alla breve 1:49
  24. Variation 23 2:05
  25. Variation 24: Canon on the octave 2:16
  26. Variation 25 6:52
  27. Variation 26 1:52
  28. Variation 27: Canon on the ninth 1:49
  29. Variation 28 2:08
  30. Variation 29 1:45
  31. Variation 30: Quodlibet 1:48
  32. Aria da capo 3:58

Disc: 2

  1. DVD Liner Notes: The Theme; Rivers of Bass Notes
  2. DVD Liner Notes: Streams and Eddies
  3. DVD Liner Notes: Games and Humor
  4. DVD Liner Notes: The Importance of Intervals
  5. DVD Liner Notes: Minor Key Variations
  6. DVD Liner Notes: Endless Aria
  7. DVD Liner Notes: The Black Pearl
  8. DVD Liner Notes: The Late Goldbergs
  9. DVD Liner Notes: Beethoven and the Goldberg Variations


Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 30, 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B00ER0QN4Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,409 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
For the cost of a mid-price CD, one here gets a complete performance of the Goldberg Variations on one disc (with all repeats included), plus a DVD including liner-notes in the form of a series of informative, illustrated talks on the work by the performer. Not the least interesting part of this is the final section, in which he demonstrates how Beethoven, in his last 3 sonatas, was influenced by the Goldberg variations.

Having around 20 versions of the Goldbergs in my collection, I was not expecting to be quite so bowled over as I have been. The CD presents one of the most engaging and involving performances of this evergreen work I have ever heard. The dancing bass-line almost achieves a life of its own, while at the same time being perfectly integrated into the whole. This is truly joyful music-making which can hardly fail to engage all who care deeply about music. To take a single example, the breathtaking rhythmic complexity of the exciting 20th variation can scarcely ever have been more deftly realised.

Before I heard Denk, Perahia's recording was probably my favourite. While Perahia aimed for, and achieved, the most beautiful sound, I think Denk's first priority is to show Bach's stunning originality and ingenuity - which he does, with the most incredible finger-work and comittment. Given that Bach wrote the work for a two-manual harpsichord, its translation to a single piano keyboard involves considerable dexterity of fingerwork. Gould had that too: but, for me, he achieved it at some cost to the humanity of the music. Denk manages to combine the best of both approaches, and then some!

The accompanying DVD presents the performer as an erudite, insightful commentator on this endlessly fascinating work and its performance.
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Format: Audio CD
One of the finest discs of 2012 was Jeremy Denk's remarkable performance of the dazzling -- and dazzlingly difficult -- Etudes of Gyorgy Ligeti: Ligeti / Beethoven (Nonesuch, 2012). A few weeks ago, it was announced that Denk had been awarded one of 2013 MacArthur grants (the so-called "genius" grants). A few days after that announcement, this record was released -- as if to confirm the good judgment of those who run the MacArthur Foundation. Well, this is simply a superb performance. It has it all: an exuberance, a palpable joy running through it, nuance and sensitivity to Bach's endless inventiveness. Others have highlighted Denk's performance in more detail. So let me highlight the DVD that accompanies it. As most people who know Denk realize: he's almost as good with words as he is as a player. On the DVD that is a freebie that accompanies the CD, Denk gives a superb tutorial on the work, demonstrating and analyzing the work. The titles of individual components are appropriately evocative: e.g. "Rivers of Bass Notes," "Eddies and Streams." He has a wonderful description of Bach's embedded hockets. His analysis of the canons that dot the work is bit like lifting up the hood of a car and seeing how the motor works. The chapter "Beethoven and the Goldberg Variations" demonstrates the links between Bach and Beethoven's late piano sonatas. Along the way, Denk is quite humorous -- and actually demonstrates Bach's compositional humor! I would have bought this for the tutorial alone. Denk is a very fine teacher who enjoys his craft. I should add that it's simply great fun to watch him play and savor, among many matters, the wonderfully mad hand-crossing that playing this work requires. One of the finest recordings of the year.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I am not an expert in classical music but have been listening to it for a long time. The Goldberg Variations are probably my favorite piece of music and I have at least half a dozen versions with me, including ones by Gould, Perahia and Schiff. I was very intrigued to know what Jeremy Denk makes of them since after so many different version you would think that doing something different with this exalted musical construction would be difficult. I have now listened to this CD a few times and I can say that Denk definitely puts a fresh spin on the Godlbergs. We need to welcome him as a promising young interpreter of Bach.

What I like about him is that he strikes a good balance between the frenzied runaway train that was Gould and the unhurried, smooth sailing of, say, Schiff. Instead he takes the middle course. The 6th and 21st variation are especially appetizing as models of careful construction. Denk also sounds like he is at peace playing the Goldberg's, unaffected by their lofty reputation and at ease with their details. Basically he gives us an honest, clean, sparking and effortless rendition of a beloved piece of music. At the same time he does put his own spin on some of the notes, unlike say Perahia whose performance is "too safe". Notes which are played sotto voce in some other versions are often accentuated in Denk's interpretation.

My wife who is not a classical music fan by any means actually took to this piece even as I played it all the way on a drive through the night. The shadows cast by the trees and the stillness of the countryside added a special appeal to the notes. The variations spoke to us like voices illuminating the darkness. I have always thought that the Goldbergs are best appreciated on a quiet drive through the snow at night. In this CD Denk has certainly emerged as an original and pleasant companion in the stillness.
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