Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Rosalyn Tureck - JS Bach Goldberg Variations|
Actor: Rosalyn Tureck
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
No Description Available. Genre: Performing Arts - Concerts Rating: NR Release Date: 27-JAN-2004 Media Type: DVD
Even High Priestesses aren't perfect
Paul Kim | Newport, RI United States | 08/17/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"A DVD version of the Goldberg variations? And one by the High Priestess of Bach, Rosalyn Tureck? I couldn't wait to see it. Because though her VAI recording (recipient of a Penguin Guide rosette) isn't quite my favorite version of Bach's masterpiece, it has always been welcome in my CD player, and so I expected good things from this DVD. And I really tried my hardest to like it.
But even by the end (or perhaps, especially by the end), I just couldn't. The first letdown was the rather mediocre video quality of the concert. I've seen concerts from the seventies with much better video quality than this 1995 concert. (The various camera angles were nice, however.) The next letdown followed soon after, when Tureck pulled out a stack of of music to read off of. Now, I realize that performing over an hour's worth of Bach may be daunting, especially as one grows older, but I couldn't help but be disappointed, especially since she has performed this work from memory before. Nevertheless, I decided, it would all be worth it after seeing Tureck pull off an amazing performance. So I settled in as she began to play the first notes of the opening aria. And that's when the real letdown began.
The aria wasn't too bad, despite some harshness of tone. But starting with the first variation, which normally kicks things off with brilliant jubilance, Tureck lets us down. Instead of the nimble gaiety which serves the variation so well, Tureck's performance of it was ponderous and bloated, maintaining the same unpleasantness of tone that hurt the Aria. The whole time she played, I couldn't get over how slow and heavy-handed it was.
More harshness of tone followed in Variation 2. This, combined with Tureck's slow tempo, made the variation sound a bit labored. However, her presentation of the counterpoint was extremely clear.
Her treatment of the canon in Variation 3 really bothered me. Instead of, say, bringing either the leader or the follower to the forefront (and perhaps even switching roles for the repeats) throughout a section, allowing the listener to delight in hearing one voice echo another, Tureck obscures our ability to tell the voices apart. Even playing each voice at the same volume (which is how you would hear it on a harpischord) would be better than what Tureck does: At the variation's outset, the leader begins, with left-hand accompaniment, as the dominant voice. But then she brings out the follower each time it echoes the leader a bar later, casting aside the new melody that the leader is moving on toward. This means that instead of continually hearing new material with old material still present, there are numerous measures of melodic ideas that are barely ever heard! (If you buy the DVD, follow along with the score and you'll see what I'm talking about.)
Some short comments about later variations:
Variation 5 - Much too slow, labored sixteenth-notes, harsh leaping notes. The excitement of this variation is lost.
Variation 6 - This canon is beautifully played. The tempo is still a bit slow for my liking, but it does let us enjoy the counterpoint.
Variation 8 - Though the meter is marked 3/4, it is commonly played with a 6/8 feel. Tureck chooses to strongly emphasize three beats per bar. More harsh tone on this one.
Variation 13 - This is one variation that I think benefits from a slow and delicate tempo, so I looked forward to Tureck's treatment. But no, our disagreement over tempo would continue, as she decides whip through it with fervor. I imagine that if Tureck had had a third hand, she would have thumbed her nose at me while playing this one.
Variation 14 - In the last two bars of each half of this variation, she suddenly pulls back on the tempo. It's quite discomforting.
Variation 21 - Very nice.
Variation 25 - Finally, a tempo that we can all agree upon!
Variation 26 - Here, I simply can't help but mention tempo again. This variation is usually such an incredible moment of the work--the anguish of Variation 25 has passed, and now comes the bubbling-over excitement (played piano or forte, it works either way) of Variation 26. But here, unfortunately, the slowness of the variation kills it.
Variation 29 - It's as if Tureck stored up all the latent speed that she could have used in the rest of the work and let it all loose in this variation. It was in such stark contrast to the rest of the performance that I couldn't help laughing when I first heard it. But it was very alive, and I loved it.
Due to the extreme slowness of so many of the variations, the main appeal of the DVD--watching all the precarious hand crossings--becomes almost nonexistent. I couldn't wait to watch, say, Variation 17, 20, and 23, but here these potentially-lofty feats of keyboard achievement seemed rather ordinary. It's not that I only appreciate technical wizardry, but this work has some moments of undeniable excitement, and to diminish that aspect of the music hurts it a lot in my opinion.
Tureck's VAI CD recording is a much better pick than this DVD. Tureck fans and Goldberg fans likely already own this, and if you do, don't bother with the DVD. The VAI disc is a much more enjoyable experience.