Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
Hyperion CDA68338 79:16 mins
As you’d expect, there is a huge number of recordings of this supreme masterpiece, ranging from Wanda Landowska’s thundering harpsichord, still exciting to listen to, to arrangements for string trio. Pavel Kolesnikov opts for a grand piano, warm and round in tone, and for a limited range of dynamics.
How do you make a worthwhile contribution to the enormous range of performances without sounding willful or perverse? Kolesnikov opts for a middle way, rather like Wilhelm Kempff two generations ago. The recording is sumptuous, but I listened in vain for some individuality. Oddly, what is most striking is the treatment of the last variation, the ‘Quodlibet’, which is almost always taken with a grand swagger, a kind of QED before the theme itself is repeated. Kolesnikov makes a point of underplaying it, so that it neither sounds grand nor peaceful. While it would be unfair to say that the performance is inexpressive, it is one of the most straightforward I have heard, so even the famous ‘Black Pearl’ variation in no way stands out. But Kolesnivov’s playing is consistently lovely, and I would defy anyone not to enjoy it.