Suddenly it’s raining Goldbergs, with pianists queuing up to deliver their take on Bach’s majestic set of variations.
Hot on the heels of Andras Schiff comes the young Russian pianist Alexei Volodin, whose approach could not be more different. Where Schiff was austere and didactic, Volodin is bold and juicy: his virtuosity is of the Soviet school, weight and power behind every note. But this didn’t prove ideal for a work which Bach had designated for the harpsichord: the intricate melodic lines which thread through many of the variations demand a cleaner delivery than they got here.
And also a slower one: to be able to play as dizzily fast Volodin may be wonderful, but it worked against this music. And when he did slow down – as in the famous ‘black pearl’ variation – the glacial pace sucked the energy out of everything around it. When the opening aria returned at the close, one had no sense of closure after an epic journey.
The rest of Volodin’s recital was much more satisfactory, with Ravel’s Miroirs vividly characterised – sweet languor for ‘Oiseaux tristes’, crackling energy for ‘Alborada del gracioso’. And his Chopin encores glittered: by the third he was just getting into his stride.