Variations Featuring Barenboim Bronfman & Schiff [Import]
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By David M. Goldberg - Published on Amazon.com
This DVD, in the space of a few days since purchase, has become one of the favorites in my growing collection. It offers three great works for the piano played by three artists who understand them and have the technique to do with this fiercesome music as they wish. Each work presents enormous technical difficulty, as well as severe intellectual challenges. Andras Schiff, who plays Bach's Goldberg Variations, fulfills this job description most successfully of all. I have never enjoyed Glen Gould's coldly technical approach to this work and much peferred the humanity that Roslyn Tureck brings to it. Schiff's interpretation and playing style are closer to Tureck, but he adds a poetic dimension that is not present in the latter's otherwise admirable performances, as well as investing the work with a wonderful spirituality. Daniel Barenboim's is a more aloof performance. The Diabelli Variations are Beethoven at his most austere, and they go on a long time. I have never heard them in public performance and only a couple of times have I seen them listed on a concert programme (both at major music festivals), but I do own vinyls by Bachus and Serkin and have come to love this music that initially seems to exclude the listener from any serious emotional involvement. Barenboim plumbs its depths with remarkable intensity and allows those variations that conjure up the glories of the last three sonatas to sing lyrically in all their beauty. Others like the Leporello variation are dashwed off with a brazen confident style, and the pianist is always in command, never intimidated by the pinnacles of viruosity demanded of him. My one criticism is his pacing of several of the slower variations that he risks allowing to fall apart. I don't think they do in his capable hands, but others may find his approach in this respect somewhat contrived. It is certainly the slowest Beethoven passages you will ever hear in the composer's entire output. Yefim Bronfman, who plays Brahms Variations on a Theme of Handel gives perhaps the least satisfactory performance of the three. I loved this work from the first time I heard Julius Katchen's Decca performance on vinyl (I now have it on CD in a wonderful set of his complete recordings), and added performances by Arrau and Michelangeli to my collection. I have also heard several excellent performances in the concert hall. Bronfman's is nothing special, although there is nothing all that bad about it. The worst I can say is that His approach lacks humour, and this is a quality that is essential to bring out the fun and playfulness of many of these variations. He grasps the structure of the composition in workmanlike fashion and provides a thundering version of the final fugue, but he offers few examples of the lace-like delicacy that adorns much of Brahms' remarkable score. It is also unfortunate that this segment (these are actually three quite independent productions in different locations) offers the poorest sound and vision. Whereas with Schiff and Barenboim, the camera focuses upon what their fingers do with the keyboard 80% of the time, revealing the amazing digital acrobatics that characterize their playing and letting us see directly how they manage to physically produce what we actually hear, this is not the case in the Brahms, where Bronfman's poker-like face becomes the main visual attraction. All three performances are given in the studio and they are separated by a span of a few years in time. The lack of an audience does detract somewhat from the spirit of a "live" performance; it would have been heart-warming to see and hear these great artists rewarded with the applause they richly deserve. On the technical side, the sound, even in the Bach and Beethoven is not of the best, but it does not detract from the pleasure on offer. There is no audio setting on this disc, no extras ( but why should there be at this generous length). More irritating is the CHAPTERS option that makes it all but impossibleto access what you really want, and the fact that the transition from one variation to the next is not indicated so that you never know where you are at any particular time, unless you are already thoroughly familiar with the work. Still, there is no rival in sight to this remarkable trio, and I recommend it enthusiastically.