Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Hristo Kazakov, piano
BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Takae Ohnishi, harpsichord – Bridge

An interesting comparison of competing piano and harpsichord versions of the Goldbergs.

Published on November 23, 2012

BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Hristo Kazakov, piano</br> BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Takae Ohnishi, harpsichord – Bridge

BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Hristo Kazakov, piano – (www.hristokazakov.com) 45:02, *****: 

BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV988 – Takae Ohnishi, harpsichord – Bridge 9357, 75:22 [Distr. by Albany] **:

Out of the Bulgarian blue comes Hristo Kazakov to throughly upset the Goldberg Variations landscape. He makes trills into provocatively textured, burl-things that totally capture the kind of unique expressiveness each instrument and each player together Bach knew would bring to music that he had written, at a very high level, for generic keyboard playing—unlike the other great variations set, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

The result is a series of separate incidents whose relationship to the theme lies in Kazakov’s conscious determination to lay them out in a series of musical events that form into a tag cloud according to unknown connecting lines and personal impulses that only the composer ever really knew—something like the unknown tune which lies behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The impact of the best Goldberg performances, when they become liberating and exhilarating, depend on vision and imagination more than stylistic consistency or note-perfect execution. Thus, even when the notes seem to get away from Kazakov in Variation 20, or he blurs the harmonies and ingenious internal swirling of the lines and his instrument’s resonances in Variation 27, or occasionally ends the music abruptly with a flat Brucknerian stop as in Variation 23, it seems right and whole.

In fact, the impression is so profound that It seems like an eternity between the tracks as you wait to see what Kazakov will do next. His way is always probing, feeling its way along the lines of Bach’s melodies and musical philosophizing. You often hear about how significant the spaces between the music are; here is a rare example from an unexpected source, a combination of incandescent thinking and very cool playing that demonstrates the role that silence can play. The superbly clear and colorful sound, recorded in Sofia’s Bulgaria Hall, completes an unexpectedly illuminating and inspiring experience that teaches us much about what it means to play Bach.

Takae Ohnishi’s performance is a less distinguished matter. Performed on a superb new instrument from Marc Ducornet (Paris, 2010) based on a Ruckers model with a French modification known as “grand ravalement,” Ohnishi lacks spirit while the occasionally harsh sound of her instrument, recorded in a lecture hall studio at the University of California, San Diego, doesn’t help.

—Laurence Vittes




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