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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV988
Jenő Jandó (piano)

Recorded Phoenix Studios, Budapest, February 2003
NAXOS 8.557268 [77.29]

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I read somewhere that Jandó is now the world’s most recorded pianist. He certainly has considered and imaginative things to say about the Goldberg Variations though as ever in this of all works not everything he does will convince. His non-doctrinaire approach is welcome, he takes the repeats, and he cultivates depth, not least in his daringly slow Black Pearl. To specifics, then. He highlights the middle voicings in the Aria, making a diminuendo on the first repeat, and making distinct tempo fluctuations in the second. He gives an etched bass kick to Variation 1, deliberately cultivates a rather laboured right hand in No.2, and in the first canon tends to hold back momentum. He’s not unaware of the humour either – there’s a slightly mechanical humorous element to No.5 and a rallentando to end No.6. Sometimes voicings are confused and sometimes he doesn’t really lift – here I think specifically of No.10, the Fugetta.

Still he has clearly pondered long and hard on voicings and tempo relations amongst much else. If I find something rather literal and treble shunning about No.11 and the trill in the fourth canon unattractive others may well disagree. Oddly No.13, though it takes 4.05, sounds rather fast – a question of articulation and phrasing rather than pure tempo – and a certain heavy handedness seems to cast a pall over Nos 15 and 16, the fifth canon (where he definitely doesn’t stop to admire the roses). As I said the Black Pearl takes a good ten minutes but it’s the succeeding variations that most disappointed me. There’s something of a lack of cumulative energy and logical drive that lets down Jandó; the ninth canon just sounds too immobile and on a practical level the engineers’ pause between variations 29 and 30 is too long; the Aria, when it return, does so therefore with a corresponding lack of tension and feeling, which is a shame.

Adequately though not optimally recorded over four days in the Phoenix Studios in Budapest this disc attests to Jandó’s dedication to the core repertoire. But next to Hewitt, say, it must cede recommendation, even at budget price - there’s little point paying less for the Goldbergs.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Don Satz


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