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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV988 (1741) [62:28]
Beth Levin (piano)
rec. live, Steinway Hall, NYC, April 2007 
CENTAUR CRC2927 [62:28]









Johann Sebastian BACH

Goldberg Variations BWV988 (1741) [49:34]
Chaconne from Partita in D BWV1004 arranged for piano in 1897 by Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924) [16:01]
Dong-Hyek Lim (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, April 2008
EMI CLASSICS 2159782 [65:35]

Experience Classicsonline

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.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Dominy Clements (Levin disc)


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