I have several versions of the Goldberg Variations, and this one is ideally suited to the CD era. Just look at the length of it, for a start: 71.11 minutes. Of the others, Glenn Gould's first recording came in at an extraordinary 38.24 mins, but this was pushing the limit of what a 1950s LP could handle. Glenn Gould's second version, releaseed just after his death in the early 1980s, was 51.20 mins long. My least favourite version, on Naxos by Pi-hsien, is 55.08 minutes of muffled, murky piano-playing.
Andras Schiff performed this new version two years ago in front of an exceptionally silent audience in Basel. (No-one appears to cough or fidget at all -- only once in the entire concert did I detect someone dropping something.) The recording certainly has the ambience of the concert hall, but there's not even any applause at the end of the recital. (Contrast this with, say, another ECM label pianist, Keith Jarrett, performing live, where the audience behaves in almost the opposite manner.)
Clearly there is not the sound of each page of music being turned over. I am so new to piano-playing that I am still in awe of anyone who can keep so much music in his head. (That's one of the advantages of recording in the studio!)
As usual with ECM CDs, the packaging is immaculate: detailed notes by Schiff himself, who first recorded this work 20 years ago, and even an acrostic poem on his name by Vikram Seth, author of 'A Suitable Boy'.
Will this CD usurp any of the affection I have for both the Glenn Gould versions? No, they will continue to find a regular place in my CD player -- I just love their eccentricities, and I find their relative brevity easier to cope with. 71 minutes is almost too much music for my mind to handle, but this is a fantastic version. There is none of the mumbled singing that accompanies a Gould or Jarrett piano recording, and I'll just have to get used to the idea that maybe JSB didn't intend a vocal track when he composed the Goldbergs.