New recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations certainly aren’t a rarity. For instance, we’ve just recently seen Lang Lang’s surprisingly tasteful set, reviewed in Limelight, so what does Kolesnikov do to set himself apart from the (ever-increasing) pack?

Pavel Kolesnikov

He was invited to collaborate with the extraordinary Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for a performance of the Goldberg Variations in 2018, and formed much of his conception of the piece in collaboration with her. Consequently, his approach in this recording celebrates the dance-like feeling so inherent to Bach’s music. Their performances together are electrifying (it’s certainly well worth having a look on YouTube to see them perform), but how does Kolesnikov’s performance hold up without De Keersmaeker’s dance?

Playing on a modern Yamaha concert grand, Kolesnikov performs the Goldbergs with a conversational grace. His opening Aria, for instance, has all the easy warmth of drinking a cup of tea with a friend, while the startling chromatic shifts of the Variation 25, AKA the “black pearl”, are eerily evocative. The faster variations flash by with a quicksilver wit, deftly showcasing Kolesnikov’s ease with this music.

I think the final question about any new recording of the Goldbergs is – do you need this one? The answer is: well, honestly? Probably not yet another, but this recording is nonetheless a wonderfully detailed and thought-out performance. As a standalone recording, it’s excellent, but I’d love to see a DVD release of the entire De Keersmaeker/Kolesnikov performance to push this one into truly memorable territory.

Composer: Bach
Works: Goldberg Variations
Performer: Pavel Kolesnikov p
Label: Hyperion CDA68338

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