performed by Christiane Jaccottet
So I figured I should start off with something seminal, a "backbone" recording, and I really what's more fundamental than Bach, right?
This is a 1981 recording on some small German label, and the performer plays a harpsichord. The first time listening, it was a little strange after hearing the piece on piano a lot, but wow it sure has grown on me, and this is the version in my aural imagination whenever I think of the music now.
I think what attracts me to it most is the nice balance struck between the mathematical sublimity and the small human-scale humility. It's so easy to miss that second part sometimes, and it's really present here. The music flows and feels like part of human life, as much as it feels like an expression of the ineffable cosmos or whatever.
Some of my favorite variations (did I mention that it's a theme and variations deal?) are 9,10, and 22, but really it's all really great stuff. I feel grounded, like part of the earth, when I listen to it. We used to play it for my daughter when she was in utero, and then over and over again when she was a baby - probably that's part of why this recording is burned into my brain and why it's special to me.
There are a couple of other pieces thrown in too, including the F major Italian Concerto, also a nice rendition. But the Goldberg is definitely the centerpiece. Great stuff.