One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             




Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 [90:24]
Fourteen Canons on the Ground from the Goldberg Variations, BWV 1087 [8:43]
Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
rec. Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente, March 2005
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 907425.26 [43:26 + 55:41]


This recording is, perhaps, most notable for its adoption of a system of tuning recently suggested by an early music performer (Bradley Lehman) as being the one that Bach himself instructed performers to adopt.  This ”sixth comma meantone tuning” theory has already garnered a great deal of interest and I was excited with the prospect of how it might sound – particularly when played by such a fine harpsichordist as Richard Egarr.

On first listen it is probably fair to expect that the relatively untrained ear will not immediate discern anything obviously different in the adopted method of tuning; this was certainly the case for me.  Yet, I was overwhelmed in places with the beauty and clarity of Egarr’s playing – and this of course adds credence to Lehman’s theory; it somehow sounds right.  With repeated listening, the harmonies seem warmer and the complex vertical structure more transparent.  The instrument was also re-voiced with gull quills, providing an opportunity for more subtle and wide-ranging tone and colour. Personally, I find Egarr’s relaxed but subtly expressive style highly convincing and impressive. However, some may feel that he does not provide sufficient forward momentum or the necessary rhythmic variation to hold attention throughout the ninety minute performance.  The listener craving a piercing and edgy recording need look no further than Pierre Hantaï - either his Naïve or Mirare recordings.  Overall, Egarr wins out for me, for his sensitive, nuanced and lyrical performance – beautifully captured by Harmonia Mundi.

Any real disappointment comes from Egarr’s treatment of the darkly chromatic movements, especially the famous “Black Pearl” variation (25).  Perhaps it is partly the gull quills, but the deathly atmosphere Bach surely intended to invoke is singularly lacking.  The quodlibet (variation 30) is also somewhat disappointing.  This piece should provide an uplifting, fluid and joyous climax after all the accumulated motion built up in preceding variations – but this is lost in a rather stilted performance - Murray Perahia is exemplary in his 2000 piano recording for Sony Classical – SK 89243.  However, the radiance and restfulness of the reinstated Aria provides a welcome return to the qualities so evident throughout the larger part of this recording: outstanding sensitivity, subtle but rich colour and tone, and beautifully shaped phrasing.

Egarr also includes the Fourteen Canons on the first eight bass notes of the opening Aria of the Goldberg Variations, discovered in 1974.  These very short pieces are thoroughly enjoyable. Egarr employs multi-tracking to enable him to play all required parts. For a more exciting performance I would thoroughly recommend seeking out the ensemble version led by Michael Behringer on Hänssler (CD 92.133).

Peter Bright

see also Review by Don Satz






Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

November 2022
Bach Orchestral Suites

del Cinque
Del Cinque Cello sonatas

Fujita Mozart
Mao Fujita Mozart

Stanczyk Acousmatic Music


October 2022

Berg Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto Elmes

DEbussy Jeux
Debussy Jeux

Romantic pioano masters
Romantic Piano Masters

The future is female - Vol 2
Volume 2 - The Dance

impromptu harp music
Complete Harp Impromptus


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.