Bach’s Goldberg Variations have played a central role in harpsichordist Pierre Hantai’s musical life since his early youth. At 28 he recorded the work for the Opus 111 label (now available on Naïve), a highly acclaimed release that stands among the work’s choice versions. Over the past 11 years Hantai evidently has rethought and refined his interpretation, as revealed in this 2003 remake. There’s greater rhythmic freedom and variety of articulation, plus a more subjective approach to ornaments and agogics, especially in the repeats (he observes all but those in Variation 15, 25, and the Aria Da Capo; the 1992 recording honors all repeats save for Variation 25). Variations previously characterized through Hantai’s seamless legato technique (Nos. 3, 6, 8, 11, 17, and 18, for example) are further enlivened by detaché finger strokes and more inflected phrasings. The latter infuse Variations 7, 10, and 16 with greater resilience and rhythmic verve than their earlier counterparts.
Youngest son of J.S. Bach, Johann Christian Bach rose to prominence in England during the early Classical period much the same as his father dominated the German Baroque. His writing was influenced by his father, of course, but also by the fashions being explored by Haydn. J.C. Bach also served as a bridge to Mozart, whose work and early writings were also influenced by the junior Bach. A total of 15, three-movement symphonies were published under Opp. 6, 9, and 18.
Given the considerable number of recordings that have tried to place Renaissance compositions within the context for which they were written, it is odd that the same has so rarely been done for Bach. After all, most of Bach's output consists of Gebrauchsmusik, music written for daily use. This release by Scotland's historical-instrument Dunedin Consort and its leader John Butt shows the possibilities of this approach.
Live Classics’ Natalia Gutman “Portrait” series continues with a second volume documenting the cellist’s work from her early career up to the present. A 1967 German radio broadcast of the Debussy Cello Sonata stands out for Gutman’s warm, expansive tone and strong, fluid support from pianist Alexei Nassedkin. A few moments of uncertain intonation and less-than-centered articulation in the second movement’s opening pizzicatos are a small price to pay for fine overall ensemble values. Gutman shines in the declamatory, slow-motion passages that dominate the outer movements of Schnittke’s First Cello Sonata, and throws herself head first into the central Presto’s roller-coaster arpeggios and ruthless clusters. A gripping performance, this: every bit as authoritative as Alexander Ivashkin’s with the composer’s widow Irina Scnittke at the piano. She’s a more sensitive colorist than Gutman’s solid yet comparatively monochrome Vassily Lobanov.