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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Evgeni Koroliov, piano
Rec: April 1999, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
HAENSSLER CD 92.112 [2CDs: 84.52]
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Every pianist worth his or her salt tackles the Goldberg Variations or has done ever since Glenn Gould made this miraculous work one of the staples of the modern repertoire. While written originally for harpsichord pianists have appropriated this work and there are as many piano versions available today as there are harpsichord recordings. Recent years have seen many excellent recordings of this work, by accomplished pianists such as Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt; Koroliov clearly strives to be a member of this pantheon of great performers.

Evgeni Koroliovís recording of these works takes a completist tack: not content with merely one CD for the works, he plays all the repeats and uses two discs. Media have long influenced recordings of these works. In the 1950s, when Glenn Gould recorded his first Goldbergs, he was limited to a much shorter recording time on disc than todayís performers. Naturally, his tempi helped, but his first Goldbergs clock in at only 38:26. Koroliov is one of the few pianists to use two discs, allowing him to run over the 78-minute mark that constrains other interpreters. This lets him take a leisurely approach to the opening aria, which is mellow and reflective at nearly five minutes long. He is especially fluid in the second part of the aria, with its sinuous melodies.

But this does not mean that his tempi are always slow. He presents a very balanced use of tempo varieties in this recording. He does not hesitate to use rapid tempi, as in the eighth variation, which, under his fingers, takes on a rare level of energy and dynamism.

But, as always, the litmus test for the Goldberg Variations is the monumental 25th variation. Koroliov plays one of the longest performances on disc of this variation, at over eleven minutes (the liner notes are in error, saying only 1:09). This is one of the most moving renditions of this variation that I have heard, on any instrument. Koroliov understands this music perfectly. He takes this plaintive variation and turns it into tragedy. I have often considered this movement an elegy to love and loss, and Koroliov plays it in that manner.

The only major drawback with this set is the recording of the piano. It has a slightly artificial sound, as if the recording was treated digitally. Other than that, the recording is good, the piano is miked correctly, and the balance across the pianoís range is excellent.

This is one of the finest recordings of the Goldberg Variations on piano currently available; the kind of disc that grows as you listen to it repeatedly. Koroliov shows a rare level of insight and this set deserves to be a benchmark against which other versions of this fine work are measured.

Kirk McElhearn


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FREE SOUND SAMPLES
(minimum 30 secs)

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Aria

Variatio I a 1 Clav.

Variatio II a 1 Clav.

Variatio III. Canone all'Unisuono a 1 Clav.

Variatio IV a 1 Clav.

Variatio V a 1 o vero 2 Clav.

Variatio VI. Canone alla Seconda a 1 Clav.

Variatio VII a 1 o vero 2 Clav. al tempo di Giga

Variatio VIII a 2 Clav.

Variatio IX. Canone alla terza a 1 Clav.


Variatio X. Fughetta a 1 Clav.

Variatio XI a 2 Clav.

Variatio XII. Canone alla Quarta a 1 Clav.

Variatio XIII a 2 Clav.

Variatio XVI. Ouverture a 1 Clav.

Variatio XV. Canone alla Quinta a 1 Clav.

Variatio XVI. Ouverture a 1 Clav.

Variatio XVII a 2 Clav.

Variatio XVIII. Canone alla Sexta a 1 Clav.

Variatio XIX a 1 Clav.

Variatio XX a 2 Clav.

Variatio XXI. Canone alla Settima a 1 Clav.

Variatio XXII a 1 Clav.

Variatio XXIII a 2 Clav.

Variatio XXIV. Canone all'Ottava a 1 Clav.

Variatio XV. Canone alla Quinta a 1 Clav.

Variatio XXVI a 2 Clav.

Variatio XXVII. Canone alla Nona a 2 Clav.

Variatio XXVIII a 2 Clav.

Variatio XXIX a 1 o vero 2 Clav.

Variatio XXX. Quodlibet a 1 Clav.

Aria da Capo e Fine

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