Bach Goldberg Variations

Two Goldbergs‚ one compromised by a sombre approach‚ the other rendered with joyous enthusiasm – good couplings‚ too

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Bach Goldberg Variations

  • Goldberg Variations

In his review of Rousset’s recording‚ Lionel Salter welcomed it as one that would have entertained Count Keyserling during his insomniac hours which‚ as Forkel alone reports‚ was Bach’s remit‚ rather than send him (and maybe Goldberg himself) to sleep. The scene is set in the theme itself‚ too often taken at a pace more appropriate to a funeral than to the dance that it is. Rousset‚ Hantaï and Frisch get it right but Proud joins the ranks of the funeral directors; he doesn’t continue in that vein‚ but first impressions tend to be lasting.
In the days of the LP it was impossible to accommodate the work‚ complete with repeats‚ on a single disc; Karl Richter and Igor Kipnis were amongst those who respectfully demanded two. On a CD the ‘safe’ limit is usually regarded as 80 minutes and‚ given a brighter and less dourly academic approach‚ this is just enough to permit the inclusion of all repeats. Here Proud only has to omit those in the closing statement of the Aria‚ and Hantaï has to abandon them in Variation 25‚ Landowska’s ‘black pearl’. My own view is that either all repeats or none should be played‚ and selective omissions proclaim commercial expedience rather than musical logic. Though both Proud’s and Hantaï’s recordings are of good­enough­to­keep quality‚ they rank (for me) in the second division. Maybe it’s a small point but it counts when there is so much strong competition. It’s a tough market place on which to open a new stall.
Céline Frisch is a bright ‘nova’ on the harpsichord’s celestial horizon. She conveys joyous enthusiasm in the quick movements and beautifully phrased solemnity in the slow ones. Her ‘competitors’ have no­less­nimble fingers but her crispness of articulation in Variations 5 and 24‚ for instance‚ is delightful. More‚ it is aided by the luminously clear sound of her instrument‚ the work of Anthony Sidey and Frédéric Bal. The ‘songs’ of Variations 13 and 25 are sung in lovely legato lines. Here indeed is a very musical young performer who has yet to lose the freshness and enthusiasm of her youth – and one hopes she never will.
The Goldberg Variations are derived from the bass line of the theme‚ the first eight notes of which are the material for the 14 Canons (BWV1987) which occupy the first part of the second disc in this set; they are played in exemplary fashion by Café Zimmermann. It ends with suitably ‘rustic’ performances of the two songs used in the Quodlibet. The inlay booklet notes are superbly informative throughout and not least on this latter subject. The songs ‘belong to the category of the “Kebraus”‚ the last dance played at a ball’‚ a cheerful reminder of how enjoyable it was. The Quodlibet is clearly Bach’s way of saying that ‘the party is over’‚ and is maybe a link with the popular­musical origins of the family from which he sprang.
This is a splendidly recorded and produced set from which you can learn more about what surrounds the Goldberg Variations than from any other I know of‚ and the performance is one to raise the spirits. No matter how many other recordings you have‚ I urge you to treat yourself to this one. I’m sure Bach would have loved it – so‚ too‚ would Lionel Salter!

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