Geoffrey Madge’s Uneven Goldberg Variations

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 9

Bach’s Goldberg Variations may seem like a proverbial drop in the bucket for a pianist known for tackling Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, the complete Godowsky/Chopin Etudes, the more-or-less complete Busoni, kilos of Krenek, and stacks of Skalkottas.

On the plus side, Madge takes great care over articulation, especially when differentiating between detached and sustained phrasing, and often changes his touch, his voicing, and his points of emphasis during repeats (Madge observes many but not all of them). This also lends interest to certain cross-handed variations, where Madge’s moderate tempos allow the virtuosic patterns melodic flexibility. Madge introspectively ruminates over the lyrical Variations 13 and 25 with double repeats, and manages to hold your attention.

Yet there are drawbacks. Madge insensitively bangs out the Fughetta Variation 10 and the wonderful toccata-like Variation 29. And Madge’s tempos sometimes lose steam as the music progresses: the opening Aria concludes much slower than how it started, while Variation 3 (the canon at the unison) grows thicker and slower by the end, and momentum flags over the course of the French Overture Variation 16.

Despite unquestionably gripping moments, it’s hard to recommend such an uneven Goldbergs in a catalogue packed with clear-cut reference versions (Perahia, Tharaud, Schiff, and Gould) and worthy under-the-radar contenders (Lori Sims, Ekaterina Dershavina, Minsoo Sohn, and Stefan Vladar).

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Perahia (Sony); Gould (Sony, 1981 recording); Tharaud (Erato); Schiff (Decca)

  • Geoffrey Madge (piano)

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