David Fray (piano)
Erato 9029660691 87:30 mins
David Fray sees the Goldberg Variations as an eternal cycle in which all times merge into one, and the manner in which he makes the final reprise of the opening Aria emerge out of the preceding ‘Quodlibet’, as though from afar, is certainly striking. It’s just one very personal touch in what is a highly subjective view of Bach’s great work. Fray’s tempos are very much on the slow side – not least in the Aria itself, and its even more lingering da capo at the end – and his altogether romanticised account makes liberal use of the sustaining pedal and doesn’t shy away from rubato. Fray’s approach pays some dividends: the famous 25th variation, forming the work’s expressive high-point, is very movingly played, and elsewhere Fray sometimes teases out hidden inner melodic lines. But all too often he seems to be trying to read too much into the music. Variation 7, for instance, is essentially a gigue, but there is nothing dance-like about Fray’s contemplative and poeticised performance; and Variation 19 – a straightforward piece in constant semiquavers – is again curiously contemplative.
Some of the variations undergo a complete character change in midstream: the French Overture which marks the work’s mid-point suddenly becomes slow and ruminative half way through its majestic opening section; and the minor-mode canon of Variation 21 also shifts in mood as it proceeds. I’ve admired this pianist’s Schubert in the past, but I find it hard to keep him company on his journey through Bach’s synoptic masterpiece.