Bach - Goldberg Variations

Steven Devine (harpsichord)

Chandos Records - Chan0780


Goldberg Variations Cover

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The 'Goldberg' Variations by Bach are considered among the most commanding and inspired sets of variations of any period, and one of the most ambitious compositions ever written for harpsichord.

They are performed here by Steven Devine on a double-manual harpsichord by Colin Booth (2000) after Fleischer (1710). The co-director of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Devine also plays the harpsichord with The Gonzaga Band and London Baroque, and has been performing Bach's Variations extensively in the UK. The 'Goldberg' Variations begin with a highly embellished but unpretentious Aria, around which Bach builds a series of thirty variations that range from the high-spirited to the introspective. The epic scope of this work is not only a consequence of its length, but also of the enormous variety that is presented here - in terms of both style and mood - and of the way the whole piece is held together by the constant underlying theme of the opening Aria. The variations were very advanced for their time, looking forward to the much later 'Diabelli' Variations by Beethoven as well as the 'Corelli' Variations by Rachmaninoff.

The set of thirty variations was supposedly commissioned by Baron von Keiserling, the Russian ambassador to the Dresden court, to help him get through his many nights of insomnia, and named after the baron's harpsichordist, who played them. However, as the set was published in 1741, and Goldberg was born in 1727, unless he was an exceptionally talented harpsichordist, the more likely explanation was that Bach wrote them for his son Wilhelm Friedemann to play, and perhaps donated a few to the young Goldberg.

Whatever the truth of its origins, there is no denying the exceptional excellence of the work. In the words of Steven Devine: 'This is a wonderful collection of dance movements, interspersed with passionate canons and virtuosic hand-crossings, all framed by a simple unpretentious Aria.'

Reviews

"Steven Devine's sense of phrasing is finely honed throughout, helped by intelligent tempi ... Devine makes this work his own with additional playful decorations ... This is a highly recommendable performance."
Katharine May - Early Music Today - September/October 2011

Devine's chandos account is.... striking for its brilliance of attack and fertility of imagination.Clearly his realization is the product of detailed preperation and scholorship.I'd be more than happy to live with this splendid performance
International Record Review - September 2011

"Devine's harpsichord Goldbergs can stand among the best in a crowded field."
Phillip Kennicot - Gramophone -September 2011

"...Steve Devine's recording of the Goldberg Variations is certainly amongst the best, making all of the crucial musical points very effectively and with plenty of expressive breathing room. There's nothing stodgy about his playing, but neither is it lightweight and ephemeral... give this recording a try - you certainly won't be disappointed."
Dominy Clements - MusicWeb-international.com - August 2011

"Album of the Week"
"...he [Devine] exercises restraint, but his muscular style is remarkably expressive."
Michael Church - The Independent - 16 July 2011

"...this account by Steven Devine ... is scrupulous ... his playing is adroit and his attention to every detail of the ornamentation punctilious..."
Andrew Clements - The Guardian - 15 July 2011

"...Highly recommended."
Stephen Pritchard The Observer - 12 June 2011