Bach. Goldberg Variations
Deutsche Grammophon, 2016
There is a funny anecdote, cited by Johann Nikolaus Forkel in Johann Sebastian Bach’s first published biography, which tells the origin of the composition Aria with thirty variations, better known as the Goldberg Variations: Bach would have composed it on commission of a Count suffering from insomnia who hoped to get relief from the music of the harpsichord during his boring nights. Goldberg, Johann Gottlieb, to whom the composition owes the name by which it is known today, was the harpsichordist who had to play music out the door of the nobleman and had been a student of Johann Sebastian and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The Goldberg Variations were published for the first time in Dresden in 1741.
The excellent harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon this lucky composition, playing on an instrument by Huw Saunders that reproduces the historical harpsichord by Johann Heinrich Harraß, built in 1710. The sound of this instrument is delicate, but less bright than others, which helps to give this cycle of the Goldberg Variations a nice intimate atmosphere. The result can be more or less satisfactory depending on personal taste and depending on which great interpreter is your favourite, but you cannot help but admire the agility and inspiration of Esfahani, even if the execution does not have nothing ostentatious. Esfahani never adds a touch that can be defined dramatic and it seems rather than his concern has been to let the music talk for itself, while providing it with the necessary qualities to render this a first-rate execution, among which the most important one is a great effervescence. On the other hand, the originality of Esfahani’s interpretation is incontestable and makes sure that it will be a pleasure to listen to the album again and again and that it creates around it an authority that seems to increase from time to time.