Thursday, February 24, 2011

JS Bach: Goldberg-Variationen - Trevor Pinnock

Johann Sebastian Bach
Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 415 130-2

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg must indeed have been a remarkably precocious keyboard virtuoso if these superb variations were written for him to play to his master, Count Kayserling, for they were already published by the time that, at the age of 15, he became a pupil of Bach's. (There is an unsolved mystery here, since although Bach received for them a golden goblet filled with 100 louis d'or, no dedication or mention of Kayserling appears on the printed edition.) Forkel said that they were put to practical use to combat the Count's insomnia. One recording, by an artist whom gallantry prevents me from naming, would have sent the Count to sleep from sheer boredom; he might well have taken refuge in sleep as a means of escape from another, by a player living further north.

But to come to the present case, Trevor Pinnock's playing would not only do nothing to induce slumber, but on the contrary would have any perceptive listener (as the Count was) eagerly sitting on the edge of his chair and demanding more: its bubbling vitality and spring-heeled rhythm are immensely engaging, and the generally very fast speeds adopted give the set a cheerful, light-hearted character that is altogether unusual. (They also enable repeats of just over half the variations to be included on a single disc.) These lively tempi—Variations 3 (the unison canon) and 14 are perhaps the most extreme—are nevertheless mostly convincing (though the French Overture surely needs greater breadth?), and No. 7, which recent research has discovered to be marked Al tempo di Giga, trips along on the lightest of toes; which makes it all the odder that Pinnock plays the theme so slowly and with so much rubato. I feel, too, that in its context the No. 21 minor variation is too suddenly slow, and I'm personally convinced that the 'black pearl' No. 25 can exercise its full emotional effect without making the rhythm too elastic. But, taken as a whole, this set, recorded with lifelike fidelity, is a feather in Pinnock's (and Archiv's) caps.

L.S., Gramophone Magazine

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