Bach: Goldberg Variations

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hevhetia
WORKS: Goldberg Variations
PERFORMER: Miki Skuta (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HV 0006-2-131
Bach’s Goldberg Variations are essentially harpsichord pieces for which he stipulated the use of two manuals in 11 of the 30 variations, while offering it as an alternative in two more. Though this isn’t a major obstacle to pianists, the ease and conviction with which they overcome it varies. Slovak player Miki Skuta succeeds brilliantly in one of the most impressive piano performances that I have yet heard. If he does not usurp the benchmark status enjoyed by Glenn Gould in his 1955 recording of the Goldbergs he probably deserves to share it. Skuta, unlike Gould and a few others, observes all but three repeats. It may sound a quibble but there is little or no evidence to suggest that Bach or any of his contemporaries regarded them as optional luxuries. Skuta responds to Bach’s rhythms and textures with spontaneity and intuitive understanding. His playing is entirely devoid of gimmickry, intrusive mannerism or inapposite idiosyncrasy. Ornaments are clearly executed and use of the sustaining pedal is informed and effective. Above all, Skuta approaches each and every one of the variations with the clear intent of revealing its poetry and individuality. In this way he reveals the richly varied expressive contrasts within the work as a whole. Limpid, delicately played canons thus take their turn with a noble and vigorous Ouverture (Var. 16), a purposeful Alla breve (Var. 22), infectiously realised dance numbers, reflective pieces and those requiring virtuosity. Neither Angela Hewitt (Hyperion) and Murray Perahia (Sony) on the one hand, nor Evgeny Koroliov (Hänssler), Jean-Louis Steuerman (Actes Sud) and Daniel Barenboim (Warner) on the other, seems to find as much to enjoy in this music as Skuta, whose recording deserves great success. Nicholas Anderson