Austrian pianist Stefan Vladar, a specialist in the Viennese classics, is a bit unorthodox even in that repertoire. His Bach Goldberg Variations are a wild ride indeed, but he deserves a certain measure of X factor credit; there's no shortage of recordings of this landmark work, and to devise a really new reading -- one that finds unusual details -- is no small feat. Vladar's must be one of the most unashamedly pianistic readings of the Goldbergs to come along in many a year. The ostensibly Baroque concepts of some of the variations are left far behind, and Bach's strict architecture of canons serves merely as a stimulus to new texture contrasts to be devised by the pianist. The music is full of changes in dynamics, emphasis on unexpected phrases and relationships between the hands, and unusual tempo choices ranging between fast and startlingly fast in many of the slow variations, which have a fantasia-like effect. Sample the positively Beethovenian Variation 16 (track 17) to see how you feel about the liberal application of pianistic textures to this work, and in general about the treatment of the music as, to use the words of booklet annotator Peter Cossé, "a kaleidoscope of moods, impulses, and strokes of genius." What definitely makes it worth your consideration is that Vladar has thought his unusual reading fully through; there is a really climactic feel to the final group of variations that many more conventional performances miss. The booklet is in German and English.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim