Music Media Monthly
, July 2011
If good things really do come in threes, then there’s some kind of trinity going on here. From three themes, three treasured composers, and three distinguished artists, this disc brings us three engaging hours of 88 variations. As someone whose greatest musical wish is to proficiently play the piano, these guys have left me stupefied; I think students of the keyboard will be humbled and motivated by these three performances. And even though the performances were given in different venues in different years, all the film comes from the same production company so there is continuity in the quality of the audio and video.
András Schiff, famous for his interpretations of Bach on the modern piano, is shown here in a live 1990 performance of the Goldberg Variations at Germany’s Reitstadel Kulturhaus. One of Schiff’s earliest successes was his 1982 studio recording of the Goldberg, which was remastered and re-released in 2006. He has also made a live audio recording of this work, recorded in 2001 in Switzerland. The recorded output of this Hungarian artist is impressive and goes beyond Bach—he’s released in entirety the Mozart piano concertos and sonatas, Beethoven concertos, and the Schubert solo sonatas.
Daniel Barenboim, an Argentinean perhaps known more widely today for his work as a conductor than a pianist, spent fifteen years in front of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During most of the 1990s, his work as director of the Berlin Staatsoper included a wide repertory but concentrated on German opera. This footage of his performance of the Diabelli Variations in Munich (1991) shows off his great sensitivity and flexibility. While the recording of Schiff’s performance shows a full house of respectful attendees in the shadows, Barenboim plays to empty seats, giving the DVD viewer the feeling of a private concert.
Russian pianist Yefim Bronfman rounds out the video with his 1987 performance of Brahms’s Handel Variations. Brahms, who owned a first edition of Handel’s keyboard suite in B-flat major (HWV 434), extracted the theme from the work’s final aria, added twenty-five variations and a fugue, and gifted his new masterpiece to Clara Schumann in celebration of her forty-second birthday. Bronfman gets a little excited in the final fugue, losing some of his discipline and playing with more weight than he needs to, but overall it’s clear he’s mastered this piece that Clara herself admitted was too challenging for her.