Thursday, 15 September 2016

Bach - Goldberg Variations - Esfahani

Rating: 3/5

A mixed bag

Mahan Esfahani is a fantastic harpsichordist and a thoughtful, individual musician so I was very interested to see what his "fresh approach" to the Goldberg variations would be – and I've found it a bit of a mixed bag.  I have several dearly loved versions of the Goldberg Variations on both harpsichord and piano, and although parts of this recording stand very well with them, as a whole I can't really get on with it.

My problems begin with the first note.  I say "note" because although the score demands two notes played simultaneously, Esfahani separates them, with the bass sounding just before the top G.  He uses this effect a lot throughout the Aria (and in several of the Variations) and I'm afraid I find it a distracting affectation which breaks up the flow of the music and gives it a halting, limping feel.  And although that specific effect is absent in Variation 4, it, too, has a lack of rhythmic continuity which I find very distracting…and then Variation 5 comes along with the most delightful sense of lightness and flow, making it one of the loveliest interpretations I've heard.

I found this throughout: some variations are quite brilliant, others I find hard to listen to.  This is, of course, a matter of personal taste and you may not agree with my assessment.  Technically, Esfahani is, as always, magnificent and the sound of his harpsichord, superbly captured by DG's recording, is wonderfully rich and engaging.  I'd suggest giving this a try or at least listening to some samples; you may well get on with it better than I did.  Personally, though, I'll be going back to Pinnock, Egarr, Hewitt and a few others, and I can only give this a lukewarm recommendation.

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