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Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Maggie Cole (Harpsichord)

Goldberg Variations - Cole

K-1

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations · Italian Concerto · Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue

CD-1:
1. Goldberg Variations BWV 988 [78:33]
CD-2:
2. Partita No. 1 BWV 825 [18:35]
3. Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue BWV 903 [11:34]
4. Toccata No. 7 BWV 916 [7:23]
5. Italian Concerto, in F major BWV 971 [12:47]
6. Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute BWV 998 [11:36]

Maggie Cole (Harpsichord)

Virgin Veritas

Jul 1987 - Apr 1988 [CD-2]; Jun 1990 [C-D-1]

2-CD / TT:

Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, England [CD-1]; Fenton House, Hampstead, England [CD-2].
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.com


Bradley Lehman wrote (March 1, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<like Hantai's, and haven't heard Cole's.

There was also a Gramophone survey of recordings (Nicholas Anderson, >October 1996 issue) that put Cole's as a top recommendation. That suggests >to me (while I haven't heard it) that it's probably a safe and boring >rendition, inoffensive, lacking character.... :) >
Well, now since I wrote that I've obtained a copy of Cole's. I got through it twice, to make sure. Sadly, my guess (above) was accurate.

It bores me: not only in its overall shape (are we there yet?), but bores me repeatedly every few minutes, within most of the variations--and not just on the repeats, but also the first time around! Her playing is accurate, moderate, safe, reliable, and inoffensive to such a degree that, well, let's say it this way:

Bach's predecessor, Kuhnau, wrote a melodramatic keyboard piece depicting the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, from Egypt to Canaan: music that was deliberately boring, featureless, and repetitive (and condensed into a mercifully short several minutes). Cole's recording of the Goldberg Variations, especially in the deadly stiff variation 25, makes Kuhnau's music seem like a pleasant little stroll through a city park. The German word says it better than English does. Langweilig. LAAAAAAAAAANNGGGGGWEEIILLLLLLIG.

The way Cole plays here (although I hesitate to use the word "play"), after the first few notes of each variation have established a pattern, all the rest of the notes fall into their predictable places. To me, at least, it's a chore to get through listening to them all until we can get on to the next part. This type of utterly predictable delivery makes Bach seem like a pedantic composer, merely correct but uninspired. As Pablo Casals scoffed about this type of performance: "Bach, the Professor! who knew very well his counterpoint and his fugue...and NOTHING ELSE!"

Yes, Cole has a clean consistency and good fingers, makes an attractive sound, and it all sounds like a human being performing, instead of a robot. That's all fine. As for the interpretation: to listeners with different expectations, such as the Gramophone reviewer, I can see how this inevitability (and the unifying featurelessness) might be counted as a virtue. "Your mileage may vary."

 

Feedback to the Review

Jim Morrison wrote (March 3, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Another review from Gramophone of Cole's work, this time, one not so impressed with her work as Anderson was.

Eminently sane, is how I would describe this performance of the Goldbergs (played on a modern copy of a Goujon): no tricks, no showing off, no seeking after effect - just clean, controlled, confident playing. Maggie Cole's sobriety is well illustrated in the famous minor Var. 25, which she takes duly slowly without going all dewy-eyed in the process, as so many are tempted to do. Her tempos are sensibly chosen, and particularly attractive are her bouncy Var. 4 and nimble Var. 5, and the lightness she brings to Var. 18 (the canon at the sixth). But I wish she had matched up her ornaments in the canonic voices of Var. 21.

The other works, played on the 1612 Ruckers in Fenton House, provoke one or two reservations along with their good points: she rushes at a wild pace through the Gigue of the Partita, and the E flat Allegro also strikes me as just too fast for comfort, while the slow movement of the Italian Concerto plods wearily. There is a splendid fluency in its first movement, though, and in the Fugue of the G major work; and I liked her relaxed approach to the Allemande and Corrente of the Partita: her somewhat boot-faced Chromatic Fugue is offset by the dramatic flair she shows in its Fantasia, with an appreciation of Bach's bold harmonic thinking.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 3, 2003):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< Another review from Gramophone of Cole's work, this time, one not so impressed with her work as Anderson was.

Eminently sane, is how I would describe this performance of the Goldbergs (played on a modern copy of a Goujon): no tricks, no showing off, no seeking after effect - just clean, controlled, confident playing. Maggie Cole's sobriety is well illustrated in the famous minor Var. 25, which she takes duly slowly without going all dewy-eyed in the process, as so many are tempted to do. (...) >
Hmm! That's a charitable way of describing how she plays var 25, yes.

Remarkably intense and freewheeling Italianate music...played not communicatively, or with any nod to its musical content, but rather with a stiff, clean, controlled "sobriety."

Maybe they should have brought a bottle of something to the recording session...Bach himself might have approved. (The Bach Reader reproduces a receipt written by Bach acknowledging the tax on three barrels of beer....)

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1994 | 1995-1999 | 2000-2005 | 2005-2009 | 2010-2014 | 2015-2019
Comparative Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Comparative Review: Round-Up of Goldberg Variations Recordings:
Recordings | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
GV - R. Barami, J. Crossland, O. Dantone, D. Propper | GV - M. Cole | GV - J. Crossland | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr [Lehman] | GV - R. Egarr [Satz] | GV - R. Egarr [Bright] | GV - Feltsman | GV- P. Hantai | GV - P. Hantaï (2nd) | GV - K. Haugsand | GV - A. Hewitt | GV - R. Holloway | GV- H. Ingolfsdottir | GV- K. Ishizaka | GV - J. Jando | GV - B. Lagacé | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV- K. Lifschitz | GV - A. Newman | GV - T. Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- J. Payne | GV - W. Riemer | GV - C. Rousset | GV - S. Schepkin, M. Yudina & P. Serkin | GV - A. Schiff [ECM] | GV- H. Small | GV - M. Suzuki | GV - G. Toth | GV - K.v. Trich | GV - R. Tureck [Satz] | GV - R. Tureck [Lehman] | GV- B. Verlet | GV - A. Vieru | GV - J. Vinikour | GV - A. Weissenberg | GV - Z. Xiao-Mei
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - D..Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr | GV - V. Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - G. Gould | GV - P. Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - K. Jarrett | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV - A. Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - R. Tureck | GV - S. Vartolo | GV - B. Verlet
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [T. Braatz]


Maggie Cole: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Goldberg Variations - Cole | Review: Flute Sonatas


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