Angelich up with the best of them

This may be a crowded marketplace but Nicholas Angelich acquits himself well.

Composer: Bach
Repertoire: Goldberg Variations
Artists: Nicholas Angelich
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label: Virgin 0706642

The Music: ‘Keyboard Practice Part IV’ was published in 1742. Every third variation is a canon. The last, no.30, combines two folksongs, one of them about turnips. Bach’s sons claimed an insomniac count commissioned the work for his own nocturnal entertainment by a harpsichordist, Goldberg, who was only 14 years old. The original title page mentions no count, but is specific about the instrument: a two-manual harpsichord.

The Performance: Angelich plays a piano, necessitating much hand-crossing. The join is mostly undetectable. He plays with an austere, reverential touch, stately momentum and unwaveringly precise rhythm even when prestissimo. All repeats are in. He uses little rubato, but rallentandos every movement, sometimes so finally, you forget he’s continuing. The ‘overture’ at the halfway Variation 16 has an orchestral sweep. The Quodlibet finale has humour: there’s a smile behind the sedately pompous rendering of the barrow-boy’s ditty. The extreme slowness and pianissimo of the
 Aria is, with Angelich, not pathos but the servant tip-toeing past the slumbering master, job done.

The verdict: Angelich’s entry into a crowded market is already up with the leaders. However, the more personal and intimate account from Simone Dinnerstein (Telarc CD 80692) just pips it.

Want More? Look out for Steven Devine’s harpsichord version on Chandos (Chan 0780).