Author: Doering, James M
Date published: March 1, 2013
Daniel Barenboim Plays Bach Goldberg Variations. DVD. Directed by Christopher Nupen. [Berlin]: EuroArts, 1992, 2012. 2066778. $24.99.
In 1992, director Christopher Nupen filmed Daniel Barenboim in a studio recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). Baren - boim's 88-minute performance has recently been released on DVD along with a 10- minute bonus track (also recorded in 1992) in which Barenboim briefly discusses his approach to performing this challenging Bach work. Nupen likely intended for this film to follow on the heels of Baren - boim's live recording of the Goldberg Variations in 1990 (Erato 45468, 1990). Barenboim was then, and still is, an advocate for performing Bach with a modern (or some might say Romantic) sensibility, and this DVD certainly captures that point of view. It is also a wonderfully intimate document of Barenboim's creativity as a musical thinker and skill as a pianist. Nupen deserves credit for letting Baren - boim's playing speak for itself. The DVD sound and image quality are excellent, and the film is not overly produced. It has no perceivable edits and relies on just a few camera angles, thus giving it the effect of watching a live performance.
As Barenboim explains in the bonus introduction, the Goldberg Variations are challenging on many levels. Complicated musical textures and technical hurdles are coupled with static features, such as the pervasiveness of G major and a steady supply of repeat signs (64 total!). For Baren - boim, these two challenges inform one another; the repetitions are actually opportunities for the performer to bring further coherence to the piece's complexity. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of this recording is hearing how Barenboim negotiates those 64 repeats. He draws upon a wide range of differing articulations, voicings, pedalings, timbres, and tempi to distill multiple lines of interest in each variation, and his attention to inner voices is particularly effective (note especially Variations 6, 9, 12, and 21). Though his interpretations are at times quite dramatic, Barenboim is always aware of the larger musical argument he is making, so the array of lines and colors is not confusing. He finds ways to link ideas from one variation to the next, and as a result, his performance is constantly propelled forward, indeed often with no break between variations. Baren - boim's attention to color and line is also tied to what he calls "a sense of Bach's sound world." He hears figures throughout the work that conjure instruments from Bach's era, and he tries to "create the illusion" of those different timbres, particularly in the piece's many canons which he hears as instrumental dialogues.
Whether or not one agrees with Baren - boim's approach, this DVD performance is both engaging and original. It also has value as a teaching resource, especially because the chapter divisions make each aria statement and variation easily accessible. For piano teachers, Barenboim's performance demonstrates the piano's rich sonic pallet at work. For general music teachers, his performance offers a way to expose students to the broad range of interpretations that Bach's keyboard works afford.
James M. Doering