JS Bach: Goldberg Variations

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Goldberg Variations
PERFORMER: Nicholas Angelich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 070 6642

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Nicholas Angelich is a very fine pianist whom I mainly associate with Brahms. Perhaps that influenced the way I listened to this disc of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, for in Angelich’s hands they seem to have a ripe autumnal quality that we routinely associate with late Brahms, especially the musing pieces which this pianist plays so wonderfully.

Angelich takes a leisurely view of the Goldbergs, although the length of his performance is partly accounted for by his taking every last repeat. In his recent recording, the great Andrea Bacchetti does that too, but he plays considerably faster and finds a momentum that is breathtaking. That can’t be said of Angelich, who almost impels one to repeat that this piece was written, so the story goes, to console a chronic insomniac; here it seems more like an attempt to put him to sleep.

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Most players, now, if they take the repeats, vary the decorations the second time round; Angelich seems intent on producing an exact replica of his first version of each of them. His dynamic range for the whole set is limited, too, nothing sounding more than mezzo-forte or less than mezzo-piano. Worst, though, is his failure to pull off the cumulative climax of the last few variations, with a perversely underplayed last one, before he returns to the theme. All told it’s lovely but a bit dull. Michael Tanner