Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 [45:02]
Hristo Kazakov (piano)
rec. 16 August 2010, Bulgaria Hall, Sofia
Self-published 885767108974 [45:02]
The Goldberg Variations have been recorded on so many different combinations of instruments - string trios, modern pianos and various strung keyboard instruments - that claim varying degrees of “authenticity” or disregard such a notion entirely.
This recording on a modern piano in Bulgaria is one in a vastly long list of recordings of this great work. For a CD of this nature to stand out in the crowd it has to be something quite special. Unfortunately, this CD doesn’t stand out. It is presented in a cardboard sleeve with a biography of the player and a supposed review of the playing (written by the performer’s former teacher) and contains no further notes. The lack of a proper CD box means that it would certainly get lost in any CD rack, unnoticeable and unidentifiable, which is also how the performance comes across. There are exceptions, but overall there is a lack of colour, in fact of variety, in these variations. Whilst Kazakov is clearly an accomplished technical player, handling the runs of Variation 23 and the fast passage-work of Variation 26 with ease and clarity, the opportunities for expression are passed by. Variation 14 has such a heavy touch in the lower registers of the piano that it really distracts from anything happening in the upper registers. This is also the case in Variation 16, where the balance between the two parts is far in favour of the lower register and the carefully crafted ornamentation in the right hand is obliterated. Having said this, Variation 18 contains the perfect balance and a poise that is lacking in other movements. Variation 25 contains some of the right musical intentions, but isn’t totally convincing.
Perhaps it is more the choice of repertoire that creates a disappointing impression, than the playing itself. There are so many recordings on pianos with which to compare: those of Glenn Gould stand out most prominently. If this player had recorded less well known music then it would have been easier to hear Kazakov’s expression and individual voice. The most successful movement on the disc is the last one, the Aria da Capo where the lower registers are under a firmer control and the balance between all the parts is spot-on. The spread chord, just before the end of the first section, is the most beautiful moment on the disc, and the tempo is less self indulgent than many other recordings. If only the rest of it was more like this.
This isn’t a bad recording. It just isn’t a particularly outstanding one, and pitting himself against all the big names, one can’t help but feel that Murray Perahia, Glenn Gould or Angela Hewitt would be chosen above Kazakov every time.
Hannah Parry-Ridout 

Masterwork Index: Goldberg Variations