Pavel Kolesnikov’s Perfunctory Goldbergs

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

Techncally speaking, Pavel Kolesnikov plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations impeccably. The fast tempos that the pianist generally favors pose no problems, and you have to respect the utter clarity and control of his fingerwork, as well as the playful ornaments and shifts and balances. If Kolesnikov plays a variation’s “A” or “B” section using mostly detaché articulation, you can bet your boots that the lines will be served up legato on the second go-rounds, or that a supporting bass line will take center stage when repeated. However, there’s little evidence of a unifying pulse or a large-scale through line as pianists like Glenn Gould, András Schiff, or Murray Perahia present, or even the affetuoso Lang Lang, for that matter. Everything pretty much operates on the same emotional level.

Take for example Kolesnikov’s brisk and flippant treatment of Variation 13, one of Bach’s most tender and lyrically eloquent utterances. Or, by contrast, his dry and detached Variation 15, which misses the rapt and concentrated point of Gould’s comparably austere 1981 remake. Knowing Kolesnikov’s tremendous facility, I was surprised to hear such flat, perfunctory, and low-energy readings of the cross-handed variations 14, 20, and 26. And why does Kolesnikov perversely let the pedal bleed over from the end of Variation 29 into the Variation 30 Quodlibet, which sounds more like a funeral march than a boisterous singalong around the dinner table?

The dryish sonics convey little of the warmth and luster we usually expect from Hyperion, especially when compared to the label’s superior 1999 and 2015 Angela Hewitt Goldberg Variations editions, not to mention its 1992 Tatiana Nikolayeva recording. Given the strikingly original and inspiring brilliance of Kolesnikov’s earlier Chopin and Louis Couperin releases, I expected much more from his Goldberg Variations.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Perahia (Sony); Gould (Sony); Schiff (Decca); Derzhavina (Oehms Classics)

  • Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)

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