By Tal Agam
The Classic Review – September 28, 2021
Those who liked Alexandra Papastefanou's recent Bach recordings – the French Suites and two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier – will immediately recognize that this new recording of the Goldberg Variations comes from the same artist; Semi-improvisational style, expressive phrasing, and unashamed usage of the sustaining pedal, especially on the slower variations.
The ornamentations on repeats are very interesting, yet they sometimes get in the way of the melody, as in the fast variation No.5. The addition of bass notes to the final bars of the Aria da capo, reminiscent of score manipulations done by Wanda Landowska, is lost on me. And although the entire performance is flowing naturally, the transition from the "black pearl" variation to variation No.26 is rough, as if edited in. The recording quality is decent but not great – compared to Papastefanou's previous Bach recordings, the piano sound lost its edge, and in the fast variations sounds a bit muffled. An enjoyable Goldberg Variations nonetheless.
I particularly liked Minnaar's way of differentiating between styles of variations – Variations 17 and 18 sound remarkably different yet related, as they should – and the care with which he treats each short and long notes. The recording in this case is excellent, highlighting every articulation and dynamic change. I haven't decided if the occasional emphasis on the left hand is attributed to the pianism, recording, or the instrument – a Chris Maene straight strung piano.
Out of these two Goldbergs, Minnaar better holds this masterpiece together as a complete whole, and will reveal itself more on repeated listening. Papastefanou does offer an emotional intensity that may appeal to many, if they are willing to compromise on less than ideal recorded sound.