Goldberg Variations, BWV 988; Adagio in G, BWV 968
Diego Ares (harpsichord)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902283-84 89:58 mins (2 discs)
Diego Ares sees Bach’s Goldberg Variations as a ‘Road trip’ in the course of which the music is enriched by new experiences in different environments. Whether or not we empathise with his concept, or with some of the more subjective thoughts contained in his accompanying booklet essay, we can readily engage with his clearly argued performance of Bach’s famous Variations.
Ares begins his journey not with the Aria upon which the 30 variations are based, but with the Adagio in G major, BWV 968, arranged probably by Bach’s oldest musical son, Wilhelm Friedemann, from his father’s Sonata in A minor, BWV 1005, for solo violin. It makes a pleasing, somewhat improvisatory-sounding preface. Throughout his performance, Ares projects an effective blend of intellectual rigour and leisurely reflection in his Goldbergs. His tempos are less hard-driven than those of some recent rival versions and, commendably, he places virtuosity at the service of the music rather than the other way round. He phrases elegantly, articulates clearly, and injects the music with a well-balanced mix of learning and entertainment. Ornamentation is, by and large, apposite and restrained, though he indulges in moments of comparative freedom, as in Variation 10. The harpsichord he plays is a fine-sounding instrument by Joel Katzman after a mid-18th-century model by Pascal Taskin. Ares chooses uncontroversial registrations for the most part, though his choice for the Canone alla Terza (Variation 9), sounding like a Marie-Antoinette ornamental clock, took a few moments of aural adjustment. In summary, here is playing rich in ideas and affectionate in sentiment. All repeats are observed.