Stories » Lang Lang's 'Goldberg' has a relaxed approach for uniquely yet unobstrusively ornamented 'dance like' performance / Classical Music Sentinel

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Lang Lang's 'Goldberg' has a relaxed approach for uniquely yet unobstrusively ornamented 'dance like' performance / Classical Music Sentinel

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Johann Sebastian Bach is to music what the sun is to our solar system. All music revolves around him and all musicians gravitate towards him. The booklet notes point out: "Lang Lang first began exploring this masterpiece more than 20 years ago and presents this record as the outcome of a long personal and emotional journey. Marking a new stage in Lang Lang's artistic development, it is the project of a lifetime." Much like Glenn Gould who in 1981 revisited this iconic work 25 years after his original recording, it is a highly personal account, so similar and yet so different.

Both versions share the same overall slow tempos, although it's hard to believe but some of Lang Lang's variations are even slower. Gould's reading was very methodical and concerned with the meticulous crosstalk between the two voices. Whereas Lang's approach deals more with the music's forward movement, which presents a slightly more relaxed, uniquely yet unobstrusively ornamented dance like performance, especially in the faster variations. In other words, even after spending so much time with the piece, Lang's is a more expressively flowing and deliberate account, and therefore less erudite than others. He captures the intimacy of the work very well. When you play the Goldberg Variations you can't help but feel at one with the music.

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Deutsche Grammophon presents this recording in different formats. This one, which is a 2-Disc release of the studio recording, the same recording is also available on vinyl, as well as a 4-Disc set which includes this studio recording along with a "live" recital from the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The main difference between the live and studio takes, is that the tempos in the live version are generally a little quicker, and the overall performance seems a bit more self-conscious and less rarefied than the studio version. But the added nervous energy lends it its own unique character. There are many fine recordings available of the Goldberg Variations, but this one, unlike so many of the others, coming from a pianist better known for tackling pieces that require extroverted bravura, comes across as a self-effacing, private offering.