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Apparently Alexandre Tharaud took nine months off giving concerts purely to prepare for his first performance of Bach’s variation masterpiece in Barcelona in 2011. Intriguingly, there is not only this CD plus DVD account available but also an LP (not reviewed here), a response perhaps to a vinyl renaissance.

Tharaud has spoken of the luxury of, for example, spending five hours on one bar during his sabbatical, and there is certainly a dizzying attention to detail on display here. Try the pearly articulation of the second variation or, at a higher velocity, the fifth, or the perfect weight accorded to each and every note in the slower variations.

Sometimes one hears the modernity of Bach’s writing in its skeletal textures; in others, the references to pre-extant forms are obvious. Although Gould is obviously a hero of Tharaud, it is Argerich’s Bach that seems analogous. There is less of the X-ray in Tharaud than there is in Gould, more of a sense of flow that moves inevitably (albeit along very varied terrain) to the restatement of the opening Aria – a return to a recontextualised place of peace.

The accompanying film, directed by Stéphane Aubé, is beautifully shot. Narrated initially by Tharaud describing how the piece has slowly matured within him, the piano performance itself is underscored rather than contradicted by a plethora of phenomenal camera angles, from underneath the hands to the interior of the piano. Sophistication is the keyword here, as if mirroring the suave heart of Bach’s masterpiece. An excellent set.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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