Donald Satz wrote (April 21, 2001):
Back in 1995, Teldec released 11 CD packages devoted to Karl Richter recordings; it was titled the Karl Richter Edition. One of them was a 2-CD set of Richter, on harpsichord, performing the Bach Partitas for Harpsichord and the Goldberg Variations.
It isn't easy fitting these works on just two cd's. Of course, Richter uses relatively quick tempos and dumps many repeats. His Goldberg Variations comes in at under 45 minutes with the sixth Partita concluding the first disc; then, there are five Partitas on the second disc (I know my math). Although every movement of the Partitas has its own track, there's just four tracks for the Goldberg Variations with the arias owning two tracks and the remaining two tracks each having 15 variations. This is not at all user friendly for the reviewer, but I shall overcome.
I'm at work and have listened once to the set (slow work day). I am most impressed. The sound is fine for the 1950's, but the best news is that Richter displays an exceptional grasp of rhythm, invests the music with high excitement when called for, and I even hear some very favorable elements I have not heard in other recordings. Of course, this isn't the 100% concentration test, so I'll have more to say once I get the set home and really dig into it. The last Bach disc I listened to at work was Kirkpatrick's WTC I; so far it seems to me that Richter makes Kirkpatrick sound very ordinary.
I'm now at home, it's the evening, and I have a full belly. After listening to Richter's performances two more times with full concentration and doing a little comparison listening, I feel even more strongly concerning the merits of the Richter interpretations.
There is not one repeat observed in the Goldberg Variations. Normally, that would entail some significant drawbacks to listening pleasure. But Richter is so good that matters of repeats don't really matter. The same applies to tempo, volume, etc. Richter hits a bulls-eye with the Aria and every variation. He gives each of them just what they need. Just to take a few examples, the heroism in variations 18 & 22 is exceptional, the flow in variation 19 is mesmerizing, and the depth and emotional intensity in variation 21 is at its highest levels. Is Richter playful? Variation 23 finds him as youthful as I could want. Joy and satisfaction permeate variations 24 & 27. His Black Pearl Variation is outstanding. Richter invests variation 26 with a whirlwind of activity. The tension in variation 28 is perfect, and variation 30 could not have a more triumphant nature.
As good as Richter's Goldbergs are, his Partitas are even better. First, the sound is a little richer and more mellow. Second, revelations abound throughout the performances. Leonhardt, Pinnock, Gould, and Tureck are hard acts to beat in the Partitas, but Richter goes to the head of the class. The only movement that is not exceptional is the fourth Partita's Allemande where I question Richter's quick tempo. In the Goldberg Variations, Richter may not be quite at the level of Gould or Tureck,
but he's very close.
Don's Conclusions: This is easily an essential acquisition. For less than the price of a premium 2-CD set, you can have a wonderful version of the Goldberg Variations and the best available set of the Partitas for Harpsichord. Yes, I did find out that this 2-CD set is available and still in print. That's great news for anyone interested in the highest levels of Bach recorded performances. Don't be stubborn and skeptical like I have been; that lovely trait of mine has deprived me of a recording possessing legendary qualities. Grab it while it is on the market.