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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741)
Konstantin Lifschitz (piano)
rec. 10-13 June 1994, Moscow Conservatoire, Small Hall. DDD
DENON CO-78961 [79:01]

Konstantin Lifschitz was an astonishing 17 years old when he recorded these variations. He brings a joy and energy to them which simply make the heart sing. Yet he is not all whimsy and caprice; he is capable of a granitic steadiness of pulse when it is required, reflecting the influence of Glenn Gould. This creates a sort of purposefulness that conveys his complete immersion in this work as a wholly cohesive sequence of interlinked ideas. There is nothing fey in his approach. He strikes the keys with the confidence and certainty of youth. Indeed, just occasionally I could do with a little more restraint and understatement, particularly in the "Black Pearl", but then it would not reflect the intrepidity and Romantic ardour of a young man in the plenitude of his powers. He observes all repeats except in that variation 25 and his tone throughout is unfailingly beautiful. As with all the best exponents of the Goldbergs he has a way of bringing out the independent voices in the counterpoint so that while the right hand sings like a peal of bells the left is commenting in baritone like a wise uncle.

By the time Lifschitz came to re-record the Goldbergs eighteen years later in 2012 (review), the youthful exuberance of 1994 had morphed into a more mature and reflective mode. Speeds became slightly less headlong, more momentary hesitations and refinements were in evidence and a generally cooler, more cerebral sensibility was manifest in his playing.

I now have five favourite versions of this inexhaustibly stimulating and uplifting work. There are the two very different Glenn Gould recordings with all their quirky concentration, the patrician authority of Perahia's classic account, Lifschitz’s later recording and this gloriously extrovert and communicative interpretation.

Although now deleted we must hope that this recording will be reissued. It certainly merits a return to availability.
Ralph Moore



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