Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bach's Goldberg Variations

I have twelve versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Ten are piano, none are harpsichord. I came to the Goldberg's relatively late in my life (as opposed to the Diabelli Variations, which I have known well since my teens). The first person to introduce me to the Goldberg's was Tatiana Nikolayeva (1970 recording) followed by Maria Judina (1968). I then, of course, bought Glen Gould (1955 and 1981). The very latest purchase has been Dong Hyek Lim (2006).

Not knowing the Goldberg's intimately over many years, I am no expert judge when it comes to top performances. One can only really judge knowledgeably if the music is entirely familiar in the way that, for example, Beethoven's violin concerto is all too well known to my ears. My ears tell me that Gould's recordings are far too Bach-Gould for my tolerance. My ears are similarly sceptical with Andrei Gavrilov (1992), Angela Hewitt (1999), Johanna MacGregor (2007). Which leaves me with Tatiana Nikolayeva, Igor Levit, Beatrice Rana, and Dong Hyek Lim, any of whom will do me for my desert island.

In playing of a long set of variations, I look for virtuosity, taste, affection, and musicality. “Profundity”, admired by many critics, seems to me to have little place in performances of the Goldberg's. My four desert island choices all have something to offer, with Beatrice Rana being perhaps the most personal interpretation of the four, Levit and Lim the most “classical”.

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