Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

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LABELS: Warner Apex
WORKS: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
PERFORMER: Jill Crossland (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-49979-2
While it’s noble that a major label should invite a relatively unknown pianist to fill its budget-priced Goldberg Variations gap, Jill Crossland’s earnest artistry is largely unsatisfying. She drags out the opening aria to the point where each phrase seems progressively slower than the previous one. Certain variations are given over to emphatic pounding (Nos 5, 14 and 18, for example), while the pianist’s lingering conceits in No. 3’s second half spill over into mannerism. Other pretentious and frankly unmusical effects include Var. 15’s alternating heavy-light articulation of the two-note phrases and Var. 8’s ‘hiccuping’ staccato. Crossland’s slow-motion Var. 25 is enervated to the point where Bach’s inner rhythm turns to mush (the triplets, for instance, are indistinctly defined). But Var. 26 boasts deftly controlled runs, and assertively segues into the next movement. Crossland makes Var. 29’s toccata-like patterns appropriately grandiose, albeit without the improvisatory abandon Angela Hewitt (Hyperion) and Rosalyn Tureck (DG) bring to the music. The ‘Aria da capo’ limps away at an unbearable crawl, only to die before reaching the final bars. Crossland also proves inconsistent regarding repeats, observing some but not others. For a fuller account of the repeats, plus a higher level of musical and pianistic finesse (to say nothing of superior engineering), stick with the Perahia and Schiff benchmark versions. And if you’re looking for a budget piano Goldbergs, Ekaterina Dershavina’s vivacious and characterful performance on Arte Nova is one of the catalogue’s best-kept secrets. Jed Distler