Bach: Goldberg Variations

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Goldberg Variations
PERFORMER: Ekaterina Dershavina (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 34011 2
In our free-for-all culture all sorts of ghastly things are done to Bach in the name of creativity, so that performing his harpsichord pieces on a piano – once considered heresy by period-instrument fundamentalists – no longer seems such a drastic offence. Pianists nowadays at least respect Bach’s texts. These two recordings of the Goldberg Variations represent very different approaches, and not only because of the preferred instrument in each case. Yet they both do every justice to a masterpiece that covers the gamut of contrapuntal devices and forms. Vinikour, whose version is recorded as an SACD, with high-definition surround sound, uses a lovely copy of a 1624 Ruckers, its tone a combination of unusually rich resonance and a delicate silveriness. He is a conservative performer, relatively frugal with his expressive mannerisms, but that does not mean that he is boring or inflexible. Far from it. This is stylish and compelling, indeed spacious playing, executed with a sensitive and easy touch, and there’s none of that tell-tale thud of the key that bedevils readings by those less adequately technically equipped. Dershavina, on the other hand, is content to play the work as though conceived, not merely transcribed, for the piano, which means bringing all the tonal and dynamic variety of that instrument into play. Her shaping of the music is outwardly freer, and again one is struck by the beauty of the sound she makes. Both readings radiate the beauty, ingenuity and spirituality of Bach’s music. Neither can quite displace, however, my benchmark versions, Christophe Rousset for harpsichord and András Schiff for piano. Stephen Pettitt

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