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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV988
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971
French Overture in B minor BWV831
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor BWV903
Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord)
Recorded Maria Minor, Utrecht, July 1999
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93384 [52.22 + 77.28]

Pieter-Jan Belder has been busy in the recording studios. At the time of these discs in 1999 he was thirty-three years old, a pupil of Bob van Asperen, and an exponent of Bach, Sweelinck and Mozart. As I write this he has begun a mammoth Domenico Scarlatti edition of 36 CDs, which should see him employed – and blistered – until well into 2007. The solo harpsichord works here were also part of a big Brilliant Bach box – the alliteration is irresistible – from which these performances have been extracted.

Belder’s Goldberg Variations is commendably humane and technically strongly competitive. But there are also aspects that tend to militate against a recommendation. The Aria is Gould-like in its speed – which I happen to like but not everyone will, especially with two repeats (he takes the repeats throughout). But elsewhere there are hints of rhythmic stolidity and of undifferentiated voicings; some of the variations tend toward the inert as well, which may well be as a result of over-caution. These strictures apply to variations such as No.2, the second and sixth canons, variations 13, 14 and 23; in general I find his playing of the canons rather disappointing and the playing as a whole rather bitty, and never quite taking flight. His Italian Concerto is enjoyable though better in the outer movements where he is very engaging; in the Largo he might now take it rather differently. Here it’s very slightly earthbound. Apart from a stodgy Sarabande his French Overture is colourful, perky and sensitive and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is a good example of his command in Bach playing.

The price of this generally engaging set is disarming. For all the above comments Belder’s playing is involved and warm. Given the modest extra outlay however I’d direct you to the wonderful Igor Kipnis on Seraphim IMP74501.

Jonathan Woolf

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