All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

JS Bach: Goldberg Variations (Fazil Say)

Fazil Say (piano) (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

JS Bach
Goldberg Variations
Fazil Say (piano)
Warner Classics 5419723396   75:57 mins


In 1999 the Turkish pianist Fazil Say released a Bach recording which reflected both his love for that composer and his ability to effectively communicate his love. Starting with a playful rendition of a French suite, continuing with the Italian Concerto and two arrangements by Liszt and Busoni, and winding up with the first number in the 48, he created a highly enjoyable album. This new Bach recording, he writes in his liner note, is in response to the clamour from his audience for a sequel to the first.

In the first few variations, that playfulness comes to the fore, his touch almost détaché, and his precision a pleasure. But as the set continues, with everything bowling prettily along, one starts to feel short-changed. The trill-bedecked Variation 14 plods rather than flies, and when we need force in the 16th we don’t get it. No. 17 is rushed, and in No. 19 he doesn’t take the time needed to let the piece open up different realms. It seems that his undeniably nimble fingers are doing the thinking, rather than his mind.

He despatches No. 25 – Wanda Landowska’s ‘black pearl’ – in exactly half the time András Schiff does in his 2003 recording, yet Schiff’s version is emotionally twice as resonant. Say nicely delivers the plate-spinning challenges of No. 28, but fails to find the beauty also lurking there. And his last few variations don’t convey, as they should, the conclusion to a huge journey. Schiff’s, in contrast, ends in triumph.


Michael Church