JS BACH Goldberg Variations (Ares)
There’s a surprise for anyone who puts on this recording without looking at the booklet first: its opening notes are not those of the famously airy Aria but the rather more congested and low-lying texture of Bach’s own transcription of the Adagio from his Third Solo Violin Sonata. Diego Ares explains that he starts each day with the Goldbergs (does he mean all of them?) and that his habit is to approach the Aria via a respectful prelude. While his repertoire of choices for that could be a fascinating subject in itself, it seems dubious that one would want to hear this somewhat laboured piece in this exalted position every time. Fortunately, a single push of the ‘forward’ button is all that is needed.
Yet all of this does suggest that Ares has both a close and personal relationship with the Goldbergs and one that considers them as an entity. His reading is a regal progress in which, while not exactly playing every variation at the same speed, he finds a basic unity of pulse for them, so that none comes as a jolt upon its neighbour. The results can be unusual: Variation 1 is considerably slower than the norm and Vars 19, 26 and 28 are also on the steady side, whereas Var 25 (the ‘Black Pearl’) favours flow over lyricism and Var 20 is unexpectedly legato. The only threats to this calm momentum tend to come within variations, where Ares sometimes slows markedly at the ends of halves, as in Vars 13 and 15 – though his liking for cute little improvised lead-backs and links forward offers a balance. Elsewhere, ornamentation ranges from flourishes that genuinely enhance the spirit of a line to some rather fidgety twiddles; the added appoggiaturas in Var 26 are frankly irritating.
Few Goldberg performances will please in every detail, however, and this one – played with good touch on a firm, even at times rather macho Taskin copy – is certainly one in which we can enjoy this interesting player’s justified confidence in his own skill and individuality.