BACH Goldberg Variations • Alexander Gurning (pn) • AVANTI 5414706 10372
There seems to have been a fairly constant stream of new Goldbergs over the last year or two. Alexander Gurning adds his contribution to the work’s burgeoning discography, and a fine account it is, too. Right off, he holds the listener’s attention with a concentration that is palpable, more of the concert hall than the recording studio. He shapes the Aria affectionately yet he does not smother it, and in doing so we hear it as pregnant with possibilities. The precision of Gurning’s articulation is immediately obvious in the first variation. Both hands are equals, indeed all digits seem to be equals, enabling Gurning to highlight voices clearly and without strain, in turn enabling us to hear the score without distraction.
Intriguingly, Gurning states that one of his ideas is to treat the Goldberg Variations with “a dramaturgy that is unique to the world of the Bach cantatas.” It works. There is the feeling of an unfolding narrative, a narrative replete with possibilities of which Bach only allowed us to hear an hour’s worth. Perhaps that is how he can create such stillness in variation 15 (“Canone a la Quinta in moto contrario”), then immediately invoke a theatrical atmosphere in the ensuing “Ouverture.” Variation 25 also conjures up this same oasis of calm. Over and over again one senses Gurning’s sensitivity and humility in his desire to serve Bach well (I should point out that I write this the morning after experiencing Lang Lang’s “Emperor” at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with the Philharmonia and Salonen, where the pianist was all and Beethoven was somewhere in the background).
The almost pointillist variation 20 seems to prefigure variation 23, where one can almost hear Bach straining to be Webern. The magical poignancy of the return of the Aria is as satisfying as in any version I have encountered.
Belgian pianist Gurning (of Polish/Indonesian parentage) has links with Martha Argerich, who introduced him to the Lugano Festival. Before that he studied at the Brussels Conservatory and with Lev Naumov and Victor Merzhanov at the Moscow Conservatory. His credentials are impeccable, and seem to have led to an integrity that is immediately audible in this release. Several readings of the Goldberg Variations have come my way recently: ... Gurning outperforms them all. The SACD recording is impeccable, beautifully rendered and with perfect presence.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke