> BACH Goldberg variations Vinikour DE 3279 [KM]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Jory Vinikour, harpsichord
Rec: October 2000, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California.
DELOS DE 3279 [85.39] [2CDs for the price of one]


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Jory Vinikour is a young American harpsichordist who has performed with various European groups and ensembles in recent years. This is his second solo recording; the first, a recording of Bach’s Toccatas, was released in 1999, and was well-received. His reading of Bach’s Goldberg variations is quite unique, in a discography where every harpsichordist worth his or her salt has "done" the Goldbergs.

First of all, the recording itself is brilliant, as is the harpsichord he is playing. This Ruckers copy by Kevin Fryer - inspired by the famous harpsichord in the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, France - has a brilliant sound, with sharp, incisive high notes, and a rich resonance. The low notes are slightly lacking in depth, but this does not mar the overall sound. In addition, the quality of the recording is extremely good. There is no excessive reverb, and the sound is very present and precise.

So, why does this recording stand out? First of all, Vinikour is clearly here to perform the entire Goldberg Variations. He is fortunate that Delos was willing to give him two discs so he would not have to cut out any of the repeats nor adjust his tempi to fit the recording. At over 85 minutes, this is a long performance, one of the longest on harpsichord (though there are piano recordings that are longer). From the opening aria he clearly shows his approach - he settles into the music and lets himself go with it. At almost 5 minutes, this is relatively long, as is the aria da capo at just over 5 minutes. In the repeats of this aria, his ornamentation is quite florid, recalling Ton Koopman’s highly ornamented style, yet Vinikour manages to not go overboard. It is tasteful and interesting, rather than merely there to show off. The same can be heard in the rapid variation 7, where Vinikour adds brilliant ornaments to the brisk melodies.

In the slower variations he shows great sensitivity; variation 9 is played with subtlety and feeling; variation 11 has excellent phrasing and subtle nuances in the ornamentation make it come alive. Variation 13 is played in a beautifully lyrical manner, which is delightfully subtle and engaging.

Variation 16, the French overture that opens the second part of the Goldberg Variations, is played here in a very flamboyant style, with lots of energy and vigour. Vinikour shows he has the talent to cover the full range of styles in the Goldbergs, and does so with great panache.

Variation 25 is one of the litmus tests for the Goldberg Variations. At over 10 minutes long in this recording - twice as long as some performers play it - this is almost like an individual work on its own. With a scope as vast as the famous Chaconne of the D minor violin sonata, this variation can be seen as a musical discourse. Vinikour gives perhaps the most emotional performance of this variation available for harpsichord. The combination of the fluid phrasing and crisp sound of his harpsichord is unforgettable. (The slow performance of this variation also lets the instrument’s tuning become more prominent. No information is given as to the temperament used, but the slightly rough edges on some of the notes are very powerful.)

(Note: there are two versions of this recording available. The first is a normal, double CD set, sold at the price of a single CD. The second is a more expensive SACD recording. The SACD disc has two data layers. One layer uses the high-density medium found in DVD to hold up to 6 tracks of DSD audio plus text information identifying the disc and its tracks. The second layer is a standard "Red Book" CD layer containing the same program that can be played in any standard CD player.)

This is a brilliant, lively recording of the Goldberg Variations, by a young harpsichordist who will certainly make a name for himself as a soloist in the years to come. Vinikour’s energy is quite exciting, and this is one of the most interesting harpsichord recordings of this work available.

Kirk McElhearn

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