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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Aria with Thirty Variations, BWV 988 "Goldberg Variations" (1741-42) [79:32]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. Moscow Conservatory, 1991
NIMBUS NI 2507 [79:32]

Experience Classicsonline

This live recording has been sourced from MusicMasters and preserves Feltsman’s idiosyncratic and very personalised take on the Goldberg Variations. Tending not to read sleeve-notes until I’ve properly begun to listen to the music I wasn’t quite expecting the battery of amendments, emendations, editorial red linings and other editorialising decisions that Feltsman codifies in his performance – or inflicts on the music if you’re being prescriptive about it. These include - most obviously – a battery of registral changes, ornament variance, and voice switching and as he himself admits in those booklet notes these will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Certainly he’s not the first pianist to engage in this kind of licence but the nature of some of the decisions sometimes does sound simply bizarre.

Feltsman plays all the repeats but will often spice them – as he does in the opening Aria – with registral changes. His bass voicings in the first variation are butch – not crisp – and in the second variation the twinkling treble registral changes take on, more and more, the sound of a musical box. It’s a constant of his performance, indeed a fetish, and struck me as less and less intelligent – if one has to do it at all – the more he did it. It’s certainly outstayed its welcome by variation seven where it’s simply wearying, predictable and – I think it has to be said – gauche. Variation eight has a Brahmsian heft to it and the eleventh variation is a confused casualty of his voicings; articulation, colour, and rhythm are all strangely presented. He seems to want to lay bare the harmonic implications of Fourteen but to me it’s interminable. The pugnacious left hand is back where some cardiac-inducing ambulance siren articulation nearly had me down at the infirmary.

The spunky rolled chords of the Ouverture are at least more recognisable than the variation that follows it. Number Twenty-Three sounds strange all round; Landowska’s Black Pearl is transmuted into the Long Dark Night of the Soul – getting on for ten minutes – and in the final straight the fancy porcelain music box treble returns with a vengeance. The gap between the Quodlibet and the return of the Aria is too long but I don’t really think it really much matters by this point.

I appreciate that a personal response to the variations is valid in this pluralistic marketplace but I’m amazed that it didn’t dawn on Feltsman how vapid, predictable and silly are some of his re-workings.

Jonathan Woolf

Jens Laurson also reviewed this disc and found it more to his





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