2007 has been a banner year for Goldbergs; no less than five recorded versions of the piece had appeared by the end of July, including a digitally reinterpreted incarnation of Glenn Gould's famous 1955 recording and Wilhelm Middelschulte's bizarre, psychedelic 1924 transcription of the work for organ. In the face of such circumstances, no one would blame music critics for throwing up their hands and saying something like "enough already!" Nevertheless, thankfully the Goldberg Variations is not that kind of a piece, its appeal is both immutable and universal.
This interpretation is a perfect match to Savall's equally beautiful Art of the Fugue. Here you find even more variety in the blend of instruments. I am not going to have only one version of this music and my first recommendation is Münchinger's more emotional recording on Decca. When it comes to colourful instrumentation, however, Savall is the winner, and the direction & playing needs no justification, it is simply wonderful, even if I doubt this folk music style reflects the spirit of the baroque era.
Robert Shaw's reading of the B Minor Mass is, in one sense at least, just what one would expect: sober and purposeful, beautifully shaped (Shaw is a master architect), it centers on the chorus. Like all of Shaw's choruses, the Atlanta group has that trademark richness of body and blend, and it sings with utter unanimity as though it were one great voice. Shaw opts for marginally broader tempos than those found in most period-instrument performances but is nowhere near as glacial as some interpreters.
That Bach's motets are not his most popular sacred choral works is easily explainable. When asked to choose between the Passions' spiritual drama, the Mass' magnificent architecture, the cantatas' infinite diversity, or the motets' inward piety, most listeners will more likely choose any of the former before the latter. Still, for concentrated intensity, it is hard to surpass the motets, particularly in performances as superlative as these by the Nederlands Kamerkoor under Peter Dijkstra.
Here's a collection of Bach pieces where the performances fit together exceptionally well. The basic sound is that of Canada's veteran Baroque ensemble Tafelmusik under violinist and director Jeanne Lamon: smooth, bright, French in its light seductiveness. Sample the almost accentless Rondeau from the Suite in A minor, a violin-and-strings transcription (and according to musicologist Joshua Rifkin a reconstruction of an original version) of the Suite in B minor for orchestra, BWV 1067; you couldn't call it gutsy, but the degree of control and consistency is impressive.