Donald Satz wrote (March 28, 2003):
Although intimate with Bach's Goldberg Variations, this is my first encounter with Alexis Weissenberg's way with Bach. Mr. Weissenberg has been scolded by many reviewers for his approach to Bach: excessive ornamentation, extremely fast tempos, and 'in your face' loudness which makes listeners feel shell-shocked.
The above characteristics are not entirely absent in this 1981 performance of the Goldberg Variations, but I am not of the opinion that Weissenberg's ornamentation, tempos, and loudness are beyond reasonable levels.
Overall, I find his performance very impressive with a small number of reservations. In general approach, he concentrates on the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Also imbedded in his style is a priority on forward momentum. The man takes the shortest routes and takes them very quickly with intense forward direction. Variations such as the 1st, 5th, 8th, 17th, and 20th are very fast and exciting; his descending lines in the 17th are particuarly stirring.
I am also impressed with Weissenberg's command of the piano. His structures are air-tight and voice interplay is delightful as in the 6th and 19th Variations. Pacing is often infectious, and he brings great energy to Bach's music. Sharp edges are not uncommon as Weissenberg has little use for rounded contours.
One might assume that Weissenberg does not convey the full measure of Bach's more poignant variations, but such is not the case. Just listen to the 9th, 13th, 15th, and 24th Variations where Weissenberg pierces the heart with his incisive phrasing and emotional depth. He also does very well with Variations 26-30 where Bach's joy takes center stage; these are life-affirming readings.
On the debit side, Weissenberg's ornamentation, although usually tasteful, can be too pointed as in the second section of the Aria; the effect calls attention to itself rather than adding to the musical landscape.
A second concern is that the rhythmic bounce so important in a few of the Variations such as the 10th, 18th, and 22nd is slighted. As I mentioned earlier, Weissenberg gives us an intense forward momentum. Unfortunately, he can neglect vertical necessities.
The most significant fault is Weissenberg's tendency to speed up as he traverses second sections. I have no idea what he's up to, but it sounds somewhat silly to me; I definitely do not get a sense of greater excitement.
Well, I don't want to seem overly negative. A cost-benefit analysis would very much be in Weissenberg's favor. From my view, the problems in the performance only stop this excellent interpretation from being among the best on record. Weissenberg's soundstage is expansive and clear with hardly a trace of any debris.
Don's Conclusions: A commanding performance of the Goldberg Variations replete with fast tempos and sharply defined phrasing. The interpretation will not suit all tastes, but there surely is a place in the Goldbergs market for these invigorating readings. I heartily recommended this super-budget disc to all Bach fans except those who insist on warm and comfortable versions.