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on 27 August 2011
I've always found Bach's Goldberg Variations difficult, no, impossible to listen to with any enjoyment. I've heard the most famous recordings, including Glenn Gould's, and felt put upon by the sheer weight of the music, its complexity, and the difficulty musicians have in playing it.

So, Joanna Macgregor's lightness, speed, tone and above all her consummate understanding are a revelation. Letting Bach breathe, while managing his complications, is a particular challenge in these pieces, and Ms Macgregor does it from the first bars, replacing the tension that comes through most performances with peace. She matches her tone and technique flawlessly to the widely varying demands of each movement, realising each as a distinct work of art that contributes to the whole. It never flags, is never too fast, above all never boring. Bach said he wanted to set free the soul of the musician. This is the result.
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on 12 November 2010
I've just (15 minutes ago) returned from hearing Joanna MacGregor play Goldberg live at The Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building in Oxford, and here I am on Amazon to order the recording. Will it work as well on disc? It's certainly idiosyncratic, but, pace the previous reviewer, it works when experienced in the concert hall - not even but especially the sustaining haze through which the reprise of the theme quietly emerges. Not for everyone, and it isn't going to oust Gould, but I wouldn't want to be without it. After the concert MacGregor described the work as "terrifying", and that's how she makes it sound; not a comfortable experience but one that forces you to think.
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on 19 May 2010
Joanna McGregor's new recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations has a rather hard piano tone in the middle and treble registers coupled with a strange muffled resonance in the bass. This, together with Ms McGregor's generally over-emphatic style, makes for an unpleasant sonic experience. She contributes a brief note on the music which doesn't add much to one's understanding of this marvellous work. Miss McGregor inclines to the' idiosyncratic to no good end' school and in this together with her recording sound and notes she compares very unfavourably with Glenn Gould in both his original and remake recordings. Her approach is encapsulated in the (usually) sublime Variation 25 where plodding and unvarying forte masquerades as profound insight. Her last and, to my ears, most unbearable idiosyncrasy is to start the reprise of the aria through a pointless sustaining haze. I can find no reason to recommend this recording over countless others and certainly not Gould. If you must have a new recording try Dinnerstein on Telarc for performance and recording.
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on 29 April 2013
A truly beautiful, sensitive performance, which is full of life. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Bach.
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on 18 November 2010
I have to say I was transfixed whilst listening to this recording of one of the greatest works ever written. Not transfixed for good reasons, alas, but because I actually thought I was listening to some kind of spoof/joke recording. I have NEVER heard such tasteless playing in my life - the pedal is down through most of the initial Aria, the textures in general merge into a kind of blurry haze and as for technique, well, the work is clearly beyond Ms. MacGregor's capabilities. I was amazed that as soon as the fingerwork got in any way taxing, which let's face it is in a bulk of the work, she actually slows down to half speed in order to play the notes. Even then there are are inaccuracies that should never have been allowed past an editing process.

If not a joke recording, then this must be some attempt to be 'different' - but different only works in the hands of a capable artist, one who has true vision and instinct. Alas, Ms MacGregor appears to have neither, and any attempt she has made to be original has fallen flat. I don't decry people for trying to record out of their comfort zone, but this recording actually verges on the insulting: an insult to Bach, to the work, and, indeed, the listener. Had I been able to rate with Zero stars then I would have done so. Shocking!
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on 15 April 2015
Not for everybody I acccept, but I came to her interpretation of this through attending a J.E.Gardiner's birthday concert at the Albert Hall. I was dreading it as I had been exposed only to the mechanistic productions of Glen Gould. Despite their technical perfection I cannot form any emotional connection to them and they just leave me annoyed as he grunts and buzzes his way through them. Not so Ms MacGregor, her playing is fluid, vital, and goes straight through to the human core of the work. It was a significant performance for me, and I immediately bought the CD which continues to delight for the same reasons after many, many playings.
For anyone with a need for rigour, formality, and a need for the last word of technical perfection then I would say: No, look elsewhere. For anyone who wonders why, for all JS Bach's prodigious output, endless invention and emotional range the Goldberg Variations seem to grind by with none of the latter, if you can deal with the odd awkward section and more highly value a lucid emotional connection then I warmly invite you to try her approach, you might just find it to your taste.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2010
Of the current outbreak of Goldbergs this is the swingingest. Cracking pace, highly musical, transatlantic feel, brilliant!
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on 11 June 2010
I love Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' and wanted to contrast Joanna's approach with the classic benchmark performance by Glenn Gould. definitely worth buying.
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