BACH: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – Stefan Vladar, piano
Preiser Records PR 90771, 74:29 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Stefan Vladar (b. 1965) makes exquisitely clear and lucid sense of the Bach Goldberg Variations (rec. 9-11 December 1966), and this comes after my having attended a devastatingly misguided performance of this same work by Simone Dinnerstein at Montalvo in Saratoga, California. Vladar, who won the 1985 Beethoven Competition in Vienna, combines a modernist–viz. after Glenn Gould–approach with the a learned perspective, keeping all repeats while inflecting those same repeats with added nuance and tonal bite. The close miking by Wolfgang Stengel does not intrude on the plastic sonic patina, in which the joys of Bach’s contrapuntal procedures and the richly endowed bass lines do not compete with the artist’s breathing or any resonant ping in the keyboard action.
The whole of Vladar’s concept moves briskly and passionately, until the key variant number twenty-five, an Adagio of severe emotional demeanor and emotional depth, whose florid arioso easily approaches the chromatic intensities in late Beethoven and much of Chopin. But there is as much brio in Vladar’s traversal as there is intellectual intensity, and the élan he brings to the more virtuoso figuration bespeaks a technical and emotional security of deep study and penetration into Bach’s mysteries. The little Sarabande in G Major becomes a magnificently voiced dialogue a la chaconne in Variation twenty-six that boils with radiant energy. The ensuing canon at the ninth moves with flashes of the two-and-three-part inventions, now raised to a visionary level of application. The Variation twenty-eight Vladar performs in the manner of a music box set to enthrall the mind with multiple voices. One can almost hear Schumann himself discovering the joys of Variation twenty-nine and the earthy quodlibet that follows, a union of the timely and the timeless; and with the reappearance of the simple Aria, the snake has devoured its own tail in archetypal terms. The naturalness and ease of Vladar’s vivid performance recommends itself with each return to the sound system.
— Gary Lemco