I've known and loved Evgeni Koroliov's 1999 CD of the Goldberg Variations, part of the Hänssler label's ongoing series of Bach's complete works, since it was issued. It is notable for its unfussiness, it unfailing musicality, its sense of spontaneity, and its sonic clarity. Clearly influenced by Glenn Gould, Koroliov nonetheless alters his touch a good deal more than the Canadian, varying from Gouldian staccato to unfailingly clear legato; this adds to the palpable feeling of spontaneity. Bach's polyphonic lines are always easily heard. And a singing, lyical line is always present.
Now comes this video of a live performance of the Goldbergs, recorded in the Gewandhaus at the Leipzig Bach Festival in June 2008, only five months before this DVD was issued. As in the earlier CD all repeats are taken. This performance is similar in many respects to that earlier recording, although it is slightly faster. My goodness, he takes the 5th variation about as fast as I've ever heard it; I wonder how he manages to make it, written for the two keyboards of the harpsichord, so clear without his two hands getting tangled up with each other. Although slower, the 11th variation presents the same problems and Koroliov sidesteps any possible digital collisions. The simplicity of the 18th variation (canon at the sixth) is charming; there are occasional octave displacements, as in this variation. It is followed by a slower-than-usual 19th variation whose lyricism is emphasized. Ornaments throughout are sparse and unobtrusive but always sparkling and apt. The Black Pearl variation -- No. 25 -- lasts ten minutes, slower than most performances, conveying a raptness that brought a lump to my throat. It is followed by a gentle, hyperlegato 26th variation, a perfect way to slowly emerge from the hypnotic 25th. The 28th variation is as light as Mendelssohn fairy music. The quodlibet, No. 30, is played with gentle humor. The repeat of the Aria is marginally faster, but still similar to Gould's 1981 recording. This is a masterful Goldbergs, one I'll be watching (and listening to) again and again.
One beauty of this DVD is that we get exceptionally helpful camerawork. There are, I think, seven camera vantage points: below and to the right, below and to the left, above and to the right, directly above the keyboard shooting down, to the right as from the audience, to the left and slightly behind the pianist at keyboard level, across the soundboard directly focusing on the pianist's face. Each camera is capable of zooming in or out. All this during a live performance! Never once did I see a camera or camera operator until the end when Koroliov was taking his bows. Real credit goes to director Michael Beyer and producer Paul Smaczny. Sound is remarkably lifelike.
Unhesitatingly recommended for those who think they'd like the Goldberg Variations on DVD. This will be a desert island choice for me.