Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg VariationsBWV988 (1741) [62:28] Beth Levin
rec. live, Steinway Hall, NYC, April 2007 CENTAUR CRC2927
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg VariationsBWV988 (1741) [49:34]
Chaconne from Partita in D BWV1004 arranged for piano in 1897 by
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924) [16:01]
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, April 2008 EMI CLASSICS 2159782
Recorded a year apart these two releases join the seemingly unceasing
flow of Goldbergs issued over the last few years. One was recorded
live, the other in a studio. One derives from mature reflection;
the other is a product of youth. One is rather brusquely recorded,
the other is all plush and velvet.
Levin’s is the live
recording, Lim’s the studio effort. Neither is satisfactory.
Lim has clearly fixated on certain Gouldian externals but not
yet assimilated the Canadian’s greater truths. The halo of lovely
sound is undeniable – and un-Gouldian of course – but it serves
no obviously higher purpose. This is warm rounded tone for its
own sake. Lim’s approach to repeats is also inexplicable. Variation
Seven is rather over romanticised and ends up, as does too much
of the performance, lacking in colouristic range and subtlety.
A regrettable side effect is the occasional rhythmic inertness
that slips into the readings as well. He leads into No.10 too
quickly with pecking articulation. No.12 sounds rather bizarre,
whilst 13 cements his fondness for romanticist introspection
– with uneven tempi and rubati to boot. 16 doesn’t come to
life, 17 is oddly phrased and 19 is pedantically done. One doesn’t
want to condemn a clearly gifted young artist with cavalier
suppositions but it really does sound to me as if, in No.20
(in particular, though it’s endemic throughout), he is simply
enjoying the sounds he makes rather than the architectural or
musical meaning behind them. I wrote “preening” in my notes;
perhaps that’s unfair – perhaps not. No.28 is Gouldian, 30 is
deadpan and the gap between these and the reprise of the Aria
is too long and saps things entirely.
Levin studied with
Rudolf Serkin. Her recording was made live with some attendant
digital slips and a rather noisy piano action. Her approach
to repeats is less haphazard than Lim’s though still not comprehensive.
The Aria is slow but unmannered whereas No.4 is deliberately
rhythmically retarded to an unusual degree. I find it shapeless
and mincing. The most obvious slips are in No.5 and they cloud
the passagework and tend to dictate the tempo. No.6 is gabbled
and runs away with itself; the romantic phrase ends in 7 do
sound mannered here. No.10 is deliberately ponderous but
the effect is leaden and the rallentando ineffective. The voicings
of the fourth Canon could be better distinguished and differentiated.
And the fifth Canon seems almost to embrace Chopin harmonically.
No. 18 (the sixth Canon) is dogged – I fail to engage with any
of her playing of the Canons by the way – and No.20 sounds odd.
No.29 however sounds plain bizarre in its Tureck-plus retardation.
Lim adds a substantial
filler, a pell-mell and piecemeal Bach-Busoni Chaconne that obeys
few architectural rules. Nothing else from Levin. Neither performance
moved me at all. You can gauge my own views and prejudices from
the above remarks and cut your cloth accordingly.
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