BACH: The Goldberg Variations – Burkard Schliessmann, piano – Bayer Records BR 100 326 – 2 Multichannel SACDs, 83 min. total – **1/2 [Distr. by Qualiton]:
Burkard Schliessmann is a German pianist who’s developed quite a reputation in Europe with his excellent recordings of works by Chopin and Liszt. His background is impressive as well; he’s studied with the likes of Herbert Seidel, Shura Cherkassky and Bruno Leonardo Gelber. I jumped at the chance when offered this SACD disc of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; and although I’m squarely in the Glenn Gould camp, I still enjoy hearing what others have to say on the subject whenever possible. When the disc showed up, I must admit, I was a bit confused – most Goldbergs tend to clock in at around forty to fifty minutes, and this version was scattered over two SACDs at 83 minutes! Taking a look at the timings of the individual variations, most of them are double the length of Gould’s classic 1955 version. While I love the Gould version dearly, he tends to race through many of the variations, and, well, too much is never enough, right? So if this new version by this notable pianist is reasonably listenable, then it could be a very good thing.
First of all, let me say that the sound on this new SACD is astonishingly good – it’s about as close to reference quality as a piano recording gets, and the multichannel layer gives about as realistic impression of a real piano in a real acoustic as you’re likely to encounter. I’ve always been impressed with Bayer’s Red Book CD sound, and their SACD sound is just short of magnificent! In terms of its usefulness as a system evaluation tool, this disc is superb. [According to the pianist, his personal piano was used and the surround channels level was changed for nearly every variation, depending on its special character. (Why? I must ask…)…Ed.]
Unfortunately, there’s also bad news. Burkard Schliessmann wrote the liner notes, and I read through them as I listened to this disc; throughout, he constantly references Glenn Gould and his viewpoints on Bach interpretation on the piano. This heartened me greatly, as I’m such a Glenn Gould kind of guy. But as I continued to listen, things just didn’t seem quite musically right – of course, there were definitely repeats in Schliessmann’s version that Glenn Gould chose not to observe, but the played notes sometimes sounded just plain awkward, or perhaps even clumsy. And it wasn’t so much as choices Schliessmann made in his tempi – which are markedly slower than Gould’s – the playing just didn’t seem to have any fire or passion. Not everyone who tackles Bach – regardless of pedigree – is guaranteed of success, and regardless of how many times I listened to this set, I still was left cold. Regardless of the superb recording, the performance was too stiff for my liking.
— Tom Gibbs