Alina Ratkowska was born in Gdyni, in Poland, in 1976. She won the first prize at the 2005 Paola Bernardi International Harpsichord Competition in Bologna. She is now director of the Goldberg Festival in Gdansk and lecturer at the Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, where she graduated.
For her first solo disc she has chosen the Goldberg Variations. It’s certainly a marker of intent and a statement of confidence. Not for her an album of, say, Couperin and Rameau, or indeed a mixed Bach album. It indicates a serious minded concentration on the core, if one can put it that way.
She plays a harpsichord made by Titus Crijnen in 2002. And she’s been perfectly well recorded too. She plays all repeats, even the ones in the Aria da capo, which for reasons of expressive concentration many, if not most harpsichordists and pianists, cut down. Her playing is by and large direct, unsentimental, accomplished and sometimes individual.
She plays the Aria without undue show, and takes a straightforward view of the second variation. She voices the fourth variation rather strangely, whilst in the fifth her tempo sounds just a touch cautious. In the fourth Canon she is much faster than, say, Trevor Pinnock, and she does sound a touch prosaic. Variation 19’s voices are again rather muddied; I sense a faster tempo here would define melody lines better. No.23 is deliberate in tempo as well, and brings out dissonances. The so-called ‘Black Pearl’ is taken unsentimentally, and is not desolate, whilst the final variations and Aria da capo are well taken and convincing.
Overall this is a positive listening experience, but in terms of recommendations a considerable way from the likes of Pierre Hantaï, whose two recordings on Opus 111 and Mirare are outstanding, or Richard Egarr, or the superb recording of Igor Kipnis of years gone by - let’s not even get to Landowska. There are many harpsichord recordings from which to take one’s pick, though not nearly as many as piano recordings; one in the eye for the Historically Informed brigade.