Matthew Halls

Bach: Goldberg Variations; Sarabanda con Partite; Aria Variata

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AllMusic Review by

British conductor and keyboardist Matthew Halls is something of a Bach specialist, so it may be unsurprising that he devises a very unusual program for his take on Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The fact is that the Goldbergs are not Bach's only large-scale set of variations for keyboard; he completed one, or possibly two other sets, and there is one unfinished set intended for the Anna Magdalena Bach Book. The uncertainty is connected to the Sarabanda con Partite, BWV 990, that opens Halls' album; its autograph is missing, but later copies attribute it to Bach. The piece appears to rework an overture by Lully, which argues against Bach's authorship, but the ingenious structure, with the last four variations forming a little dance suite, supports it. Additionally, the themes and variation techniques of both this work and the concluding, early, and quite rarely recorded (the young Glenn Gould being a notable exception) Aria variata, BWV 988, have a certain kinship of treatment with those of the much larger Goldberg Variations. The presence of Bach's musical personality is the charm of this album. The Goldbergs themselves get split into two parts between one CD and the other, with the break coming logically after Variation 15. (There is no digital version of the album, but the Linn label's rich, finely textured sound would militate in favor of the CD version anyhow.) Halls' Ruckers-style harpsichord at first seems to be very cautiously treated, but the overall effect grows on you: his tempi broaden and become more varied in the climactic slow variations, with telling effect. An interesting and beautifully recorded release, worth the money for the instructive program alone.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Sarabanda con Partite, BWV 990
1 2:00
2 1:26
3 0:51
4 1:41
5 1:26
6 1:06
7 2:02
8 1:13
9 1:24
10 0:48
11 1:09
12 1:36
13 1:46
14 1:30
15 1:09
16 1:05
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
17 4:41
18 2:03
19 2:19
20 1:59
21 1:16
22 1:57
23 2:01
24 1:49
25 2:03
26 3:00
27 1:50
28 2:21
29 3:37
30 5:50
31 2:29
32 4:40

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
1 3:05
2 2:17
3 1:38
4 1:49
5 2:18
6 3:18
7 1:31
8 2:22
9 3:48
10 7:08
11 4:00
12 2:07
13 2:44
14 2:12
15 2:03
16 4:54
Aria Variata, BWV 989
17 1:59
18 2:31
19 1:17
20 1:10
21 1:11
22 1:03
23 2:29
24 0:54
25 0:55
26 1:01
27 2:07
blue highlight denotes track pick