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Bach’s lengthy full title of
this work is “Aria with divers variations for the harpsichord with two
manuals. Composed for people who love the mind by Johann Sebastian Bach”.
The Aria is one of the most beautiful 32 bars ever composed. Divided into
two 16-bar sections, each repeated, it is the basis for the following 30
variations. It concludes with the Aria repeated and unchanged from the
opening after over an hour of music. That makes 32 separate pieces based on
a 32-bar Sarabande (as the Aria is called in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook).
Richard Wigmore’s booklet essay here is, likemost of Hyperion’s booklets, a model of scholarship and quite informative. Pavel Kolesnikov (b. 1989) will turn 32 as this goes to press. Born in Serbia, his early training was at the Moscow Conservatory. He is now London-based after completing his studies at the Royal College of Music. He was the winner of the 2012 Honens Competition and was inspired to learn the Goldberg Variations to accompany a ballet with choreography by Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker. The pianist says that his approach to the work was developed through this fascinating, laborious, and enthralling collaboration. I found his interpretation rewarding musically and impressive in an unusually subdued way. Kolesnikov is capable of more tone colors and gradations of volume at a low dynamic level than any pianist I have heard. My notes use the word “detached” a few times and also mention light, crisp articulation. He does use a bit of pedal here and there, and there are some
louder moments, but those are
few and far between. His legato playing, especially Variations 9, 21, 25 and
26, is superb and a welcome break from the more harpsichord-like other
variations. Still, he makes incredible use of dynamic shading; and his
ability to play the technically difficult late variations like 20, 23, 26 at
a very quiet level is amazing, especially when on a repeat he plays even
quieter. All repeats are taken, and tasteful ornamentation is added on the
I have enjoyed this several
times; its low-key approach makes it unique among my favorites.