Review by James Manheim
There are dozens of available recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, but Italian pianist Andrea Bacchetti can't be accused of keeping to paths laid down by other keyboardists. If he follows anyone, in fact, it's Glenn Gould, whose 1955 recording of the Goldbergs seems to have inspired him. There's no humming, but in many respects this is the most extreme recording of the Goldberg Variations since that year. In terms of pianistic playing, complete with crescendos and other completely anachronistic devices, you could even imagine you were listening to some unknown Gould recording at times. But Bacchetti's most radical move is his alone: he applies varying amounts of ornamentation to the repeats in the theme and each variation, and in many of the simpler pieces earlier in the set he applies a great deal of it. Listeners will have their own reactions to this, but it's worth sampling the collection at several different places to get an overall idea; this is a hazardous course of action. The main issues are twofold. The contrasts of texture among the variations, critical to Bach's elaborate architecture, are diminished. And, especially at Bacchetti's quick tempo, there is no way to take a consistent approach to ornamentation throughout; as the piece goes on and local detail is wedded more and more intricately to larger structures, he scales back the added material. That is, of course, the right decision, and you may find that Bacchetti's performance is both coherent and musical; it has an X factor of sheer intensity that works in its favor. Just be sure you know what you're getting into. This album has been issued both with and without an accompanying DVD, which contains a performance separate from that on the CD; the comments above refer to the CD version, issued on Italy's Dynamic label.