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24.3.07

Perahia's Goldberg Variations

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J. S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Murray Perahia, piano (released on October 3, 2000)
Last year, Jens and I published a two-part round-up of a pile of recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations. For my part, I professed the highest admiration for the Céline Frisch recording on harpsichord (Alpha, 2004). On the piano -- a mode of performance that I find perfectly acceptable, although I prefer the harpsichord -- I have always loved Glenn Gould's 1955 recording. There are some movements in that recording that no one is likely ever to surpass in terms of sheer virtuosity. I had previously heard Murray Perahia's recording, released in 2000, and liked it, but recently that recording has come across my desk for more intense -- even obsessive -- listening.

Perahia's athletic, dramatic reading makes evident all of the advantages that the modern piano has over the harpsichord, especially in broader ranges of dynamics, color, and articulation. One of the tests of a successful performance of Bach on the piano is whether the sound makes you think of how something would have sounded on the harpsichord -- for example, in the two-manual movements like Variation 8, which perforce are the result of a sort of trickery on the piano. One of the most difficult variations is the penultimate one -- Variation 29, just before the Quodlibet -- a mercurial toccata that Perahia hacks through like a buzzsaw. For all of Perahia's jaw-dropping bravura -- splashier than the always cool Gould -- there is refinement to be admired as well, in the playful embellishments on most of the repeats and the thoughtful understanding of underlying forms, like the giga in Variation 7 and the French overture in Variation 16.

Sony Classical SK/SM 89243

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