JS Bach: Goldberg Variations

Peter Hill (Delphian)

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JS Bach Goldberg Variations
Peter Hill (piano)
Delphian DCD34200 78:48 mins

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Long identified as a pianist specialising in 20th-century repertoire, on disc Peter Hill has been burrowing back to Bach of late – following up recordings of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier with a thoughtful account of the French Suites. Suitably limbered up, he now addresses that Everest on the landscape of Bach’s keyboard writing, and with characteristically unshowy yet compelling results. He’s up against stiff opposition of course: Jeremy Denk’s intellectual inquisitiveness (on Nonesuch), Angela Hewitt’s dancing translucence (on Hyperion) and Murray Perahia’s singing eloquence (on Sony) for starters. But there’s an honesty and intelligence that earns him a place at the top table if not quite at its head. He’s pondered the piece long and hard, as his instructive liner notes show; and where the ear sometimes encounters an obstacle they clarify Hill’s decisions. If the ‘Tempo di giga’ of Variation 7 sounds a touch sturdy for example, it’s because Hill believes it follows the French style – a style not entirely convincingly conveyed in Variation 16’s doughty ‘Ouverture’. Usually, though, Hill is a fine judge of characterisation, and not just within movements but in how they relate one to another. Thus if Variation 26 is a cause for thistledown introspection rather than the hurling of virtuosic firebrands, it’s because he’s keeping his powder for Variation 29 which goes off pop and fizzes throughout. Section repeats are not universally observed, puzzlingly so in the case of Variation 22 whose balance is skewed; but overall Hill charts a pre-eminently lucid and illuminating course. Can The Art of Fugue be far behind?

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Paul Riley