This is a magical listening experience. Only the brave have recorded The Goldberg Variations using the piano in preference to the harpsichord since Glenn Gould’s benchmark recording of 1955. Ms Boyle is among those brave. She does not attempt to deprive Gould of his speed record (neither did Gould himself make an assault on it when he re-recorded the work in 1981) but brings something quite different though equally exciting to the set.
Though her fingers are as nimble and fleet as any (witness variations 5, 14 and 20 among others) Ms Boyle gives them second place to her ears. Thus her playing of fugal passages is as clear as a telescope view of distant mountain chains on the brightest of days. While her sound world is a different one from Gould’s: richer, warmer, more nuanced and full of emotional as well as intellectual depth and resonance. The great Bach player Edwin Fischer wrote in the 1950s that a new generation of pianists was striving especially for sounds of brilliance: “the vowels of I and E,” as he put it, in preference to Ah and Oh. He finished, “But are not Oh and Ah the sounds of wonder?” Yes they are. Hats off to Diana Boyle.