Bach: Goldberg Variationsby Murray Perahia
The year 2000 has been an annus mirabilis for Bach's Goldberg Variations. We have been blessed with pianist Angela Hewitt's unfailingly graceful performance; an elegant transcription for baroque strings and harpsichord by Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy; and a gleaming yet unexpectedly quaint realization by the Canadian Brass. Now Murray Perahia adds his inimitable voice to the distinguished chorus with this mercurial and often witty interpretation. Like most pianists who play this work, Perahia owes a considerable debt to the trailblazing Glenn Gould. But where Gould focuses on clarifying the score's contrapuntal complexity, Perahia seems more concerned with savoring its melodic munificence. Bach's tunes are long and winding roads, and with Perahia as our guide, we get a full sense of their range and reach. It's an exceptionally smooth ride, too. At first hearing, one might even find it emotionally detached, but further listening reveals that Perahia knows the music's depths as well as its surface. Even more than Gould, Perahia elucidates the work's architecture, revealing the theme and 30 variations to be a single, indissoluble unit. Note how he slowly screws up the tension until the anguished climax of Variation 25, then quickly unwinds in the exuberance of the five final variations. (The pianist provides an illuminating explanation of his approach in the CD booklet, although it presupposes fairly sophisticated knowledge of music theory.) Like Hewitt, Perahia plays all the repeats, adorning the iterations with a fanciful array of ornaments. Although Hewitt still impresses greatly with her ideal balance of caprice and sobriety, Perahia's performance is equally delightful and considerably more thought-provoking. He lets us hear this much-recorded music with fresh ears, and that's no small feat.
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Performance CreditsMurray Perahia Primary Artist
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I've been listening to Glenn Gould's version of the Variations for many years now. And I hope I'll be listening to it for many more. But Parahia's rendition is simply magical. To me, his version is more gentle than Gould's, more loving, more musical. Nevertheless, when the score calls for thunder and fortissimo, Perahia's got it in spades. The recording is a delight.
The United States has been fortunate to have its very own pianist to record a majority of the "established" piano concerti and sonatas. Murray Perahia has to be among the few living pianists today who demotes self-indulgence (i.e. Glenn Gould) and intead accumalates scores of awards, including Grammys, Gramophone Best of the Year awards and Penguin Guide Rosettes. He is a pianist who has definitely found his true calling. But on to the Goldberg's. This listener has long cherished Roslyn Tureck's recording on VAI. But over the years, I have found it somewhat pedantic and rigid. I greatly esteem the Dinnerstein recording on Telarc as a treasured disc, but have some difficuly choosing just one to recommend. If this listener were to recommend an introduction to the Goldberg Variations, without any prejudgments or prior knowledge of this work, then Perahia would be the one to start off with. He has the "Midas touch". Everything he plays turns to gold: note his Mozart piano sonatas, Schubert's Impromptus, Chopin's Ballades, and Mendelssohn's piano concertos, just to name a few of his exemplary recordings. Perahia plays the GV's seamlessly, almost effortlessly with grace and aristocratic poise. And yet at the same time there is a joyous spiritual quality to it all. With interpetive insights such as this and such colorful phrasing, I wonder why Perahia is not regarded as the U.S.'s leading pianist today. Go figure....