Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Goldberg Variations BWV 988
PERFORMER: Tatiana Nikolayeva
Bach’s first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, told the story that the Goldberg Variations were written for an insomniac – not to send him to sleep, but to occupy his mind while awake. Tatiana Nikolayeva approaches these 30 variations on a sarabande in a spirit of quiet absorption, avoiding the dramatic and occasionally spectacular characterisations of Glenn Gould or Rosalyn Tureck. While Gould’s sanity is sometimes in question, Nikolayeva is almost always sensible and balanced. If her playing is, for some, too comfortable, relaxed, lacking electricity, it is never mechanical. Occasionally clumsy (as in Variation 14), she is more often exquisitely delicate (as in the theme itself) and, when the music warrants, humorous (Variation 23). There is one variation, but only one (22), where she distorts the rhythm and clips articulation. In the final Quodlibet, her robustly old-fashioned, ample manner is probably appropriate to what Bach meant as an antidote to pomposity. The disc captures all the warmth and naturalness which this great artist shows in live recitals. Adrian Jack