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Goldberg Variations

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 23, 1995
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

Not since Glenn Gould's debut recordings has a young pianist tackled this challenging work with similar executional ease and unbridled joy. Konstantin Lifschitz blends heart, mind, and fingers in a way that makes Bach's textural complexities clear with a minimum of fuss. What marvelous music-making, and to think the pianist was sixteen when he recorded this! Lifschitz observes all the repeats. --Jed Distler
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Product Details

  • Performer: Konstantin Lifschitz
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (May 23, 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Denon Records
  • ASIN: B0000034XW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,746 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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By A Customer on February 28, 2003
Format: Audio CD
The command with which this work is performed very nearly leads the listener to imagine Mr. Lifschitz a medium through whom the music is being channeled; the ecstatic, personal quality of his performance, however, disavows one of the notion.
As observed by Mr. Distler, Mr. Lifschitz observes all the repeats. This has the effect of making me feel as though I'm being introduced to the Goldberg Variations on piano for the first time. Very different in spirit than either of the Goulds, but not, in my opinion, less enjoyable (although Gould really is in a class by himself). One wonders what Gould's opinion of them would have been.
Mr. Lifschitz does not hum.
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I am a Bach buff, especially his keyboard pieces. Goldberg Variations are my favorite. I got this CD because I was curious how such a young pianist handled this monumental work that demands maturity as well as absolute virtuosity. When I listened to the CD for the first time, I was amazed that 16 years old Konstantin Lifschitz played Goldberg Variations nearly perfectly (just to clarify I do not believe a human being can achieve perfection) with confidence and maturity. He brought out polyphonic voices with exceptional clarity. He played each piece of the variations in a distinct manner such as tempo, dynamics, articulation and mood. He is not just good as a 16-year old, but he is phenomenal as a world-class pianist. If you want to listen to great Goldberg Variations, buy this CD. You won't be disappointed.
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Format: Audio CD
This is what they might have sounded like. Without a doubt, it is one of the finest recordings of the "Goldberg Variations" and one of the finest solo piano recordings, period. It justly deserved the Grammy nomination it received when it was first released.

Konstantin Lifschitz was, indeed, 16 when he recorded it, and shows all the technical brilliance of the young Glenn Gould when Gould first recorded it (for example, in ASIN B00006FI7C). However, even at the tender age of 16, Lifchitz brings dimensions to his performance that Gould never attempts. First, unlike Gould, he takes all the repeats. This provides an opportunity for frequent and inspired variations on the variations that often reveal "hidden" foundations of the score itself. Lifschitz's variety of touch and articulation combined with a solid command of tempo and the broader shape of the music can fill an encyclopedia. At the same time, his rhythmic intensity, whether slow or brilliantly fast, is always powerful.

After listening to this performance and some others that have come along since, such as the outstanding effort by the reborn Murray Perahia (ASIN B00004Z3PV), I continue to return to it. So, my preferences generally run, in order, toward Lifschitz, Gould, and Perahia, who to my mind represent the three finest piano interpreters of this literally monumental work. (A recent and undeniably virtuosic effort by Gavrilov (ASIN B000025I53) suffers, simply because of its perfunctory, and sometimes rushed, virtuosity.) Lifschitz, in particular, as Peter Woodard (chair of the Hartt School Jazz Theory department) has noted, brings a noticably Richterian approach to the work.
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Format: Audio CD
Konstantin Lifschitz was an astonishing 17 years old when he recorded these variations; he brings a joy and energy to them which simply make the heart sing. Yet he is not all whimsy and caprice; he is capable of a granitic steadiness of pulse when it is required, reflecting the influence of Glenn Gould, creating a sort of purposefulness that conveys his complete immersion in this work as a wholly cohesive sequence of interlinked ideas. There is nothing fey in his approach; he strikes the keys with the confidence and certainty of youth. Indeed, just occasionally I could do with a little more restraint and understatement, particularly in the "Black Pearl", but then it would not reflect the intrepidity and Romantic ardour of a young man in the plenitude of his powers. He observes all repeats except in that variation 25 and his tone throughout is unfailingly beautiful; as with all the best exponents of the Goldbergs he has a way of bringing out the independent voices in the counterpoint so that while the right hand sings like a peal of bells the left is commenting in baritone like a wise uncle.

By the time Lifschitz came to re-record the Goldbergs eighteen years later in 2012 (see my review), the youthful exuberance of 1994 had morphed into a more mature and reflective mode; speeds became slightly less headlong, more momentary hesitations and refinements were in evidence and a generally cooler, more cerebral sensibility was manifest in his playing.

I now have five favourite versions of this inexhaustibly stimulating and uplifting work: the two very different Glenn Gould recordings with all their quirky concentration, the patrician authority of Perahia's classic account, Lifschitz’s later recording and this gloriously extrovert and communicative interpretation.
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Format: Audio CD
There is much to like here. Some of the variations delight and thrill but others are less successful. The young Lifschitz has occasional recourse to artifice but in general he shows impeccable taste in his Bach playing without sacrificing imagination. He is clearly a very capable pianist and he makes a lovely, pure sound. Whenever I listen to this set of Goldbergs, though, I feel he runs out of steam. The first ten or so variations go wonderfully and with real panache. Sometimes, because of this, he might miss a chance to illuminate an aspect of a variation but the gains are exciting. But as the piece goes on the charm wears a little thin and there is less to delight. Some of the more profound variations seem to fail: they can fall flat and seem to plod a little (while Lifschitz seems to be aiming at something more airborne). The handling of the later variations (from, say, 17 or 18 on) is perhaps the test of an account of this much recorded work. So many pianists have shown us how Bach's imagination plumbs great depths or show us, without sacrificing formality, the very edge of a world that is almost wild. So, if I follow Amazon's instructions for personal scoring (5 means "love it", 4 means "like it" and 3 means "it's OK") I want to give it three and a half stars. This is not a recording that belongs in the Top 5 (or even, I suspect, Top 10) of Goldberg Variations. But for the exhilaration of the early variations and for it's freshness it might justify a place in a collection that already has many fine versions of the work - the Perahia, certainly, and the second (very lovely and very exciting) Schiff, and (obviously) the '81 Gould and perhaps the Tureck.
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