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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Ondine 1273

Goldberg Variations

Lars Vogt, piano
Ondine ODE1273-2 76:38
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This is a very tasteful, well played but at times slightly restrained account of the Goldberg Variations. Pianist Lars Vogt offers a performance that is almost beyond cavil in its sense of shaping and structure, in its contrapuntal vitality and its technical flawlessness. His timing of 76:38 is lengthy, mainly because he takes all the repeats. That said, alongside Gould, especially the first of his two recordings, Vogt is very measured and leisurely. And of course, Vogt uses more legato than Gould, and in the end manages to turn out a fairly spirited account of this masterpiece.

Yet, the music can turn a tad limp in a few places: Vogt's legato style, always beautifully shaped to be sure, can soften a bit too much as a phrase concludes, the music registering with a somewhat muted, less impactful character. Still, even in these moments Vogt is always elegant and ever the sensitive musician. His style suggests he is intent on plumbing the music for both its depth and beauty, and he largely succeeds. Where Gould in his 1955 account races out of the starting gate in Variation I and slows relatively little in II, Vogt is graceful and jaunty and alert to detail – and better, at least here. One of course can make a strong case for Gould's more energetic and brittle take on this work, which was then a quite revolutionary approach to playing Bach. But Vogt in his more gentle, more lyrical manner comes across very convincingly on his own terms. Indeed, and he is relatively free of mannerism, giving you an elegant and vital if somewhat straightforward account.

Simone Dinnerstein, Andras Schiff and many other pianists have delivered critically acclaimed performances of the Goldberg Variations on record, and so the competition is fierce. Vogt makes an excellent case for his way with the work and anyone favoring a more measured approach will find his performance quite rewarding. The sound reproduction on this Ondine CD is clear and well balanced, and the interview with Vogt printed in the album booklet offers some interesting insights on Bach's music.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings