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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV988 (1741) [77:17]
Marie Rosa Günter (piano)
rec. 2015, Mendelssohnhaal, Gewandhaus, Leipzig
GENUIN GEN16435 [77:17]

Marie Rosa Günter, a young German pianist, has chosen one of the pinnacles of the keyboard repertoire for her first solo recording. Sir Humphrey would have undoubtedly described this as a “courageous” decision. The biographical section of the booklet notes records that Bach has been central to Günter’s musical development. His music has also appeared in her involvement in competitions, such as the National Bach Competition for Young Pianists, held in Köthen, which she won in 2005 in her mid-teens. She has won several other significant prizes, including first at the Steinway International in Hamburg. Clearly, she is an artist with talent.

The Goldberg Variations do not, however, require virtuoso technique, but rather a sense of poetry, and above all, one of architecture. The performance here has certainly the former – some of the slower variations, including No. 25, are quite lovely – but I’m less convinced of the latter. At times, I felt that Ms Günter was simply getting us from one variation to the next.

Pianists have taken many different paths to the Goldbergs, from Angela Hewitt’s crispness to Simone Dinnerstein’s cocktail bar, from Glenn Gould’s extreme speed to Roslyn Tureck’s languor. My two preferred versions are those of Hewitt and Murray Perahia, suggesting that my picture of the work is in the elegant portion of the spectrum. Günter opts for a rounded, slightly Romanticised approach, mainly in rhythm and note definition, rather than tempo. She is a little quicker than Hewitt (78:31); both are somewhat slower than Perahia (73:29). I don’t hear the dance rhythms as clearly as with Hewitt, and there is significantly less dynamic variation and characterisation than Perahia. Indeed, I think it is this last aspect where Günter comes up short; I found my attention wandering at times.

The piano sound is agreeably rich and mellow, much less bright than that for Angela Hewitt, but also lacking a little definition in places – the Quodlibet comes to mind. It must be a thankless task writing booklet notes for such core repertoire. Genuin do not attempt to re-invent the wheel, providing a brief outline of the work’s history, and a note written by the artist outlining her thoughts about the work.

This doesn’t threaten to break into my favourites, but there are good points, and I would like to hear Ms Günter revisit the Goldbergs in twenty years’ time. In tackling it now, she has bitten off more than she can chew.

David Barker



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