Bach: Goldberg Variations

Bach: Variations Goldberg
Pierre Hantaï
Mirare 9945

Little need be said about the Goldberg Variations themselves. I expect that any reader who might find something useful in my list would have already heard them many times.

This is a case where there are literally dozens of recordings to choose from, several of which are more than acceptable to me according to the standards I've set for keyboard performance in other repertory. In this case, we can even begin to approach the quality and variety available to mainstream classical music.

This is now Hantaï's second recording, supplanting his first on my list. While I had some misgivings regarding his approach in the first recording, this second reading actually emphasizes these aspects even more. He uses some flexible tempi, and doesn't necessarily keep to a strict rhythm in the bass. At this point, that approach seems entirely fitting to me. If anything, the first recording seems overly stiff in comparison. He continues to bring out the individual character of each variation, especially as his technique continues to evolve.

I believe that Hantaï's experience with the English early-17th century repertory has served him well here, in terms of developing the Bach Variations as a summation of a style whose intellectual roots trace to Byrd et al. To this, the present liner notes add the knowledge that Hantaï has played the Goldberg Variations more often than any other piece of music in his life. With his second recording, he has certainly put a permanent personal stamp on the work.

Finally, whereas the harpsichord in the previous recording was not particularly interesting in tone, and even the source of a complaint in my discussion, the present harpsichord is very fine indeed.

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Todd M. McComb