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CLASSICAL  December 2008

CLASSICAL December 2008

Subject:

Bach's Goldberg Variations on Fortepiano

From:

Don Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 1 Dec 2008 15:11:41 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 [48:58]
Selections from Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias:
Invention no. 4 in D minor, BWV 775 [1:04]
Invention no. 8 in F major, BWV 779 [1:01]
Invention no. 9 in F minor, BWV 780 [1:22]
Invention no. 13 in A minor, BWV 784 [1:18]
Sinfonia no. 2 in C minor, BWV 788 [1:37]
Sinfonia no. 6 in E major, BWV 792 ]1:17]
Sinfonia no. 7 in E minor, BWV 793 [1:52]
Sinfonia no. 9 in F minor, BWV 795 [2:54]
Sinfonia no. 13 in A minor, BWV 799 [1:35]
Sinfonia no. 15 in B minor, BWV 801 [1:15]

Walter Riemer (fortepiano)
Recorded Schloss Niederfellabrunn, Austria, April-May 2007
NF-Audio (no catalog number) [66:44]

A unique and outstanding release!  It is rare that I can say the above
about a recording, but this newly minted one played by Austrian keyboardist
Walter Riemer fully deserves the designation.

What makes this release unique is Riemer's use of a fortepiano, in this
instance a 1995 reproduction of an original built by Andreas Stein in
Augsburg, 1773.  Riemer claims that his recording is the first-ever of
the Goldbergs on a fortepiano, and I have to agree as I have not heard
of another recording of the work on fortepiano and my inquiries of a few
other Bach keyboard enthusiasts yielded no citation of other recordings
on fortepiano. As for the sound of Riemer's fortepiano, it is wonderful
with abundant heft, depth and clarity.  Those of you who think of the
fortepiano as sounding tinny and weak need to hear this particular
instrument; your doubts will be quickly erased.

Another enticing feature of the disc is that Riemer uses the Bach/Lehman
tuning system (1722).  About four years ago, the musicologist and early
music keyboard artist Bradley Lehman determined that the diagram of loops
at the top of the title page of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1
(1722) revealed Bach's preferred tuning system.  After deciphering the
diagram, Lehman found that this tuning system resulted in a more agreeable
sound throughout the tonalities than in any other tuning system applied
to Bach's music.  From my own listening experiences, I think it's fair
to say that this newly discovered temperament offers a more cantabile
and lyrical presentation than other temperaments.  Further, the use of
of the new temperament is increasing with time.  Well-known keyboardists
including Peter Watchorn and Richard Egarr are using it exclusively with
Bach's works, and it wouldn't surprise me if the new temperament becomes
the standard in a few years.

On to the performances, and they are stunning interpretations with a
high degree of technical aplomb.  Riemer's lively rhythmic bounce is
delightful, and he does an exceptional job of clarifying and balancing
musical lines.  In addition there are two special features that really
put these performances "over the top", one of them quite compelling and
the other thoroughly captivating.

To explain the compelling feature, I should offer a few comments about
the architecture of the Goldberg Variations.  Both the opening Aria and
each of the variations are in two sections.  Where Riemer differs from
most other performers of the work is that his second sections are often
just a bit quicker than the first sections and also possess greater
tension and urgency.  This creates a "mini-climax" effect that is
invigorating and adds to the sweep of the music.

Dance rhythms can be captivating as evidenced by Bach's six-packs of
French Suites, English Suites and Partitas.  Although the Goldbergs is
not made up of dance movements per se, there are abundant opportunites
to highlight dance patterns and Walter Riemer makes the most of those
opportunities.  Often while listening to his interpretation, I am unable
to refrain from dancing away the hour.  Riemer offers rhythms with great
elasticity and bounce that make for a delicious listening experience.

As for the selections from Bach's Inventions and Sinfonias, I only wish
that Riemer had played the entire work for he gives the selections the
same interpretive profile as the Goldberg Variations.

Any reservations?  Not from my end, but I should mention a couple of
items that some readers might find troublesome.  First, Riemer plays
fewer than half the repeats, so readers who insist on all repeats being
performed are duly advised.  Second, the faster variations are played
much slower than the norm; however, Riemer's strong articulation and
textural variety results in very interesting interpretations.

Don's Conclusions: Excepting those who are allergic to the fortepiano,
Walter Riemer's recording is a must-have for Bach keyboard enthusiasts.
Just go to the NF-Audio website to obtain your own copy of this irresistible
and unique disc.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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