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Who Played It Better: Goldberg Variations

by Seth Colter Walls

Who Played It Better: Goldberg Variations

About this playlist

Glenn Gould's first studio recording for CBS didn't just help launch the LP era for classical music back in 1955, it also helped create a Goldberg Variations mania that has survived several music delivery format changes in the decades since.

The latest entrant into the sweepstakes on this Bach masterwork is pianist Jeremy Denk. To get a sense of how different his reading is from Gould's early studio recording, listen to each pianist's take on Variation 20. Gould's is a total blitz from start to finish: The articulations may seem clear, but there's hardly any room for the listener to perceive all the notes. Denk's Variation 20 is nearly twice as long (at just under two minutes), and while he shows some get-up-and-gallop at various points, there's a lot more, well, variation in his version.

You don't have to pick one performance over the other, of course. By listening to both albums -- and by keeping this playlist handy -- you should be able to figure out what kind of Bach performance style you prefer for any given mood (or time of day). Enjoy!

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