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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Naxos 8.557268

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741)

Jenő Jandó, piano
Recorded Phoenix Studio, Budapest, February 2003
Released January 2005 Naxos 8.557268 77:29
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The Performer – Believe it or not, Jenő Jandó has more recordings in the catalogs than any other pianist. More than a 'house pianist' for Naxos, he is a production machine and all machines break down now and then.

Jandó has recorded Bach before. Specifically, he recorded Bach's complete Well-Tempered Clavier a few years ago. It wasn't one of the best piano accounts on record, but I did find it highly enjoyable and a good super-budget choice.

The Performance – Jandó's Goldbergs isn't as fine as his Well-Tempered Clavier, not even close. The more I listen to it, the more I find questionable and unrewarding features. Here are my top problem areas:

1. Jandó likes to flatten and round notes, resulting in insufficient lift and exuberance. There is also a metronome-like aspect to his playing that contributes to minimal elasticity.

2. The bleakest variations, #15, #21, and #25 (Black Pearl) only get a dusting of negativity from Jandó.

3. Inflections and accenting are often weak, depleting both the strength and poignancy of Bach's music.

4. Dialogue among the musical lines is undernourished. Much of this is caused by a lack of balance among the voices, making effective communication difficult. There are also too many moments when Jandó simply sounds clumsy.

5. To top things off, Jandó has a little formula he uniformly employs when playing Bach's repeats. He softens the tone and adds short trills to the upper melody lines. When heard in one or two variations, the effect can be positive. But Jandó's steady diet soon becomes predictable and tiresome. Further, those little trills are annoying and sound entirely contrived.

Don's Conclusions – The best I can say is that Jandó's Goldberg Variations is serviceable and in fine sound. However, the competition is immense and leaves Jandó at the starting gate. I recommend taking a pass on Jandó and investigating the piano versions of Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Charles Rosen, Tatiana Nikolayeva, and Andras Schiff (his ECM, not Decca version). And then there are dozens of harpsichord versions to explore. Sad to say, Jandó is well below the curve.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz

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