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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Analekta 23068

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741-42)

Bernard Lagacé, organ
Recorded Immaculate Conception Church, Montreal, 1995
Analekta 23068 77:32
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It's always a nice change of pace to listen to the Goldbergs performed by a worthy Bach performing artist and played on a very attractive-sounding modern organ. Having just given this Bernard Legace disc its final two spins, I can confidently report that listening to it is a highly pleasurable experience. Legace uses the organ to charm and seduce the listener, and I think he's done a successful job of it. Also, his registrations are quite pleasing and rhythmic flow is exceptional.

However, the charm and seduction so prevalent in the performances are also problematic to a degree. Given that the organ is the supreme instrument to convey celebration and majesty, I am disappointed that Legace did not instill more of these traits into his interpretation. In those variations that demand majesty such as the #16 "Overture" and #30 "Quodlibet", Legace comes through splendidly, but he discards it entirely elsewhere.

While I'm on my "complaint" jag, I'll also mention that Legace displays no particular interest in examining the underside of the human condition; that's a shame, because the organ is also made to order for digging into the dark side of life. One last set of reservations – Legace favors a very smooth delivery with rounded contours that gets rather ho-hum after a few variations; this is not a very interesting performance of the Goldberg Variations. Combined with slowish tempos in the faster variations, excitement is another quality little in evidence.

Don's Conclusions: Although Legace's performance is a fine one, I do feel that he has missed a sterling opportunity to give us a fantastic Goldbergs on organ. My basic reservation is that Legace has not used the organ to its best advantage, and I don't really see much point in doing an organ version of a harpsichord work without employing those advantages.

For those still interested in the Legace, it is available alone as a single disc or part of a large box of the complete Bach organ works along with organ performances of the Well Tempered Clavier and a few other non-organ compositions. For my part, it would be fine to hear this Goldbergs again in the future, but I also wouldn't mind if that didn't happen. Overall, only recommended to avid organ enthusiasts.

Copyright © 2008, Don Satz

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