I'm amazed that previous reviewers, although apparently eager to dis one of America's greatest harpsichordists, failed to note the most salient feature of Kipnis's Goldbergs: the fact that he not only was one of the first to take every repeat of every variation, but also ornamented every repeat in a tasteful and often dazzling way. It's especially impressive in the canon variations, where he is careful to ornament the theme the same way in both voices.
Further, it is always dangerous to criticize the sound of a harpsichord on the basis of a recording, since the way it is miked is what ultimately determines how it will sound. I was privileged to hear, meet and talk with Kipnis at two separate harpsichord festivals held at Westminster Choir College in the early 1970s. On both occasions he brought his large Rutkowski and Robinette "German" instrument, complete with pedals and 16-foot stop, and he even allowed some of us attending to play on it. I'm here to tell you that instrument had one of the most gorgeous timbres I've ever heard on a harpsichord. Yes, it had a metal frame, but that didn't make it sound at all "metalic." A metal frame might mute the resonance of the harpsichord case, but it does not contribute a sound of its own. (The instrument was so heavy that one year, while a team of six men were moving the instrument, one of them actually got a hernia.) Kipnis's own touch on the instrument was gossamer, free of mechanical noise. I don't know whatever happened to that particular harpsichord, but it is a priceless treasure.
Performers at the Westminster festivals would give a recital one evening and a seminar the following morning, and it was clearly evident that nothing Kipnis did was capricious or unfounded. He had made an exhaustive study of ornamenting, and if his conclusions were not the same as some listeners might arrive at, they were always based on important source material.
His performance of the Goldbergs--both the one I heard live and on the recording he made around the same time--is spectacular. Truth to tell, his program at the second festival (comprising all fantasias) made nowhere near the same impression as his Goldbergs. I would never want to be without Landowska's second (RCA) recording of the work, but Kipnis's is right up there in terms of being indispensible.
It is illuminating to compare Kipnis's recording with the appalling travesty of Rosalyn Tureck's recording on harpsichord (not piano) that came out on Columbia at around the same time. She also took each repeat, but her ponderous tempos, excessive ritards and ham-fisted technique made each repeat pure agony rather than a delightful variant. One might think that repeating each of 32 variations would create a sense of tedium, as Tureck does so excruciatingly, but with Kipnis's imaginative ornamentation, the effect is exactly the opposite--exhilarating!
Hearing Kipnis within the context of a festival with such other legendary harpsichordists as Sylvia Marlowe, Fernando Valenti, Ralph Kirkpatrick and Gustav Leonhardt made it clear that Igor Kipnis was without question one of the finest harpsichordists America has ever produced. His Goldbergs are not to be missed.