Pierre Hantaï

Bach: Goldberg Variations; Concertos

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The recordings contained in this box were made in 1992 and 1993 in a church in the Netherlands and originally released on the Opus 111 label. They were later reissued by France's Naïve label, whose design flair seems to have temporarily abandoned them; the Naïve box is unattractive, ecologically disastrous, and ergonomically deeply frustrating. Another complaint would be the acoustics; the church sound, far from appropriate for music written for aristocratic chambers, swallows up the harpsichord's sound, especially in the group of harpsichord concertos. However, none of it matters, for this is one of the greatest recordings of the Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, ever made. Hantaï's reading is exuberant and youthful. His theme, straightforward and pleasant, gives little hint of the thrills to come, but soon the material involves itself in incredible brightness and precision that grips the listener for the duration. Supremely virtuosic but never flashy, Hantaï does not lean on the listener in emphasizing the profundity of the slow variations; instead, he picks apart their highly intricate relationships to the basic theme. For just one example of the depths of this recording of the Goldbergs, check out the shocker at the end of the Adagio variation 25 (track 26), where the harmonic resolution at the end of the theme is recalled in striking fashion. It's daring, but it makes perfect sense, and it is executed with a steely skill that will leave you shaking your head. Many of the virtues of the Goldbergs are also present in the selection of concertos and solo harpsichord pieces on the second part of the program; the concerto slow movements, with their interplay between the harpsichord and flute (played by Marc Hantaï), are especially nice. But it's the Goldberg Variations here that command attention above all.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
1 4:09
2 2:14
3 1:44
4 1:54
5 1:00
6 1:46
7 1:43
8 1:43
9 2:32
10 2:14
11 1:28
12 2:24
13 3:03
14 4:47
15 2:10
16 4:33
17 2:49
18 1:50
19 1:21
20 1:29
21 2:08
22 3:01
23 1:17
24 2:13
25 3:01
26 3:44
27 2:09
28 1:50
29 2:30
30 2:02
31 1:57
32 4:25
blue highlight denotes track pick