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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV988 [77.45]
Beatrice Rana (piano)
rec. 7-8 November 2016 Teldex Studio, Berlin
WARNER CLASSICS 9029 588018 [77.45]

This recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is Italian pianist Beatrice Rana’s second album for Warner Classics. In 2016 I reviewed her splendid first Warner release of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2 which made quite an impression (review).
 
The Goldberg Variations is a widely acknowledge peak of the keyboard repertoire. It has proved an extremely popular choice for performers in the recording studio mainly on the piano but also on the harpsichord, the instrument it was originally written for. Legend has it that Bach composed the variations for harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to sooth the sleepless nights of Count Kaiserling, an insomniac. The Variations comprise of an aria and a structured string of thirty variations concluding with a repeat of the aria. This intricate and challenging “keyboard exercise” has been embraced by both the authentic performance adherents on harpsichord, producing a sound to approximate what Bach might have heard, to the modern concert grand with its broad colour range and expressive capacity.
 
Beatrice Rana's playing is deserving of praise. She adopts an expressive approach that feels high on passion. She adopts broad tempi and her playing is colourful and vital, seeming to savour every note. Every piece has character: notably, the delightfully played arias, which are tinged with an undertow of vulnerability and introspection, the stylish and glowing sarabande (variation 13), the wistful canon (variation 15), the imperious canon (variation 18) and the stylishly passionate adagio known as the “the black pearl” (variation 25). The recording, made at the Teldex Studio, Berlin, has been handsomely produced having especially fine clarity and presence. The soloist has written a helpful essay in the accompanying booklet.
 
Beatrice Rana is a pianist who makes you sit up and take notice. Her striking recording will sit agreeably alongside my favourite Goldberg recordings: Rosalyn Tureck’s aristocratic 1998 Hamburg account, so full of perception, is on Deutsche Grammophon. Glenn Gould's 1981 New York City recording on Sony is very enjoyable too, albeit rather headstrong for some. For those preferring a harpsichord, the 1965 recording on Teldec by early music specialist Gustav Leonhardt is admirable for its directness of approach.
 
Michael Cookson



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