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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

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on 1 April 2009
I already had different versions of these variations on a single theme along with Bach's other keyboard works, mostly written as studies in counterpoint but now generally regarded as worthy of performance in their own right. So why would I buy another? Apart from the fact that Catrin Finch was brought up in the same village I used to live in, I was curious as to how this music would sound on the harp. Originally written with the harpsichord in mind, the keyboard pieces are generally performed today on piano, though The Art of the Fugue, with no instrument specified, also has a good modern representation for string quartet.

As well as being played straight, the pieces are often transcribed as with the renditions by Glenn Gould, hailed by some as brilliant and by others as eccentric. I have Gould's Goldberg as well as his recordings of other pieces, my favourite being the Two- and Three-part Inventions, in spite of the fact that you can hear him humming along and speaking to the piano as he plays! Finch follows Gould in transcribing the Goldberg Variations for her instrument, allowing her to adapt performance to suit its peculiarities. This works well for some variations and less well for others. (You can listen to the Aria on You-Tube)

So I'm glad to have added this to the range of Bach renditions in my collection. It remains to be seen how often it will return to my music player once I've adapted to the novelty of it. Those performances that do are the ones that, over time, seem to lead to greater depths of engagement with this very deep music. I listen to them for the way they unravel a complexity that never fully resolves itself.

That they reach real depths that are hard to explain is a view shared by those who have much more musical knowledge than I. Glenn Gould said:

It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, has unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency.

(original liner notes to his Goldberg Variations LP)

That's a view I had formed for myself before reading those liner notes. Few other musical pieces get anywhere near this exploration of the music of the spheres, though some of Schubert's piano works have a similar atmosphere of depth and engagement. These are grand claims and certainly not all artists realise them in their performances. Instant judgements are not useful in this respect, so I'll wait on time to know if Finch's journey from the opening aria to its restatement at the end gets anywhere near the best. For now - it's growing on me!
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on 1 April 2009
The scholarship and technique involved in this performance are astounding. The music is beautiful, haunting and challenging by turns.

But I am very disappointed with the final product. The better the system that you play this through the worse it sounds. It's full and dense over the internet sampling download, but oppressive and distorted when purchased and played through a set of £1000+ B&W speakers!

DG have attempted to provide a luminous and full bodied sound to Catrin's harp, but they appear to have over-saturated the recording at a number of points and the mike placements / processing have ended up with a two dimensional sound, when artful recording techniques can provide an illusion of depth. For exemplary stringed instrument recording I would refer the reader to Julian Bream's wonderful early '80s recordings for RCA of spanish classics by Albeniz and Granados.

Bach would be fascinated and fully supportive of the musical endeavour here and would be bowled over to hear the music in a room with no sign of a musical instrument.

But DG have failed to use musical recording techniques. I wonder if Naxos might have done better with a simpler method.

Five stars for the music and 1 star for the production; that averages out at three stars - but doesn't tell the real story!
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on 20 February 2009
Parts of this work wonderfully well and the parts that don't work so well (where the two hands are getting in each other's way at speed) are technically astonishing. Musically though I wish Catrin Finch hadn't decided to put in obvious rallentandos at the end of so many of the variations. For me it's an irritating interruption to what should have the arc of a single journey - the train slows down too often. I drove for an hour in not very auspicious weather to hear it live and it was worth it but I won't want to listen much to the CD except to remember that it can be done. But if the stop/start doesn't bother you give it a try - you do feel you've been somewhere and it does have a full sense of arrival when she gets to the final variation.
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on 20 March 2009
Catrin Finch is a fantastic harpist - first heard live with James Galway playing the Mozart Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra. (available on DG 00289 477 6233)I have always enjoyed Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations and was a little apprehensive as to whether they could be transcribed well for the harp. I think Catrin Finch has done an excellent job - in fact some variations sound better on the harp, bringing out the complexity of counterpoint with absolute clarity. The quality of both the playing and the sound reproduction is first class. Highly recommended.
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on 3 April 2009
How the mighty have fallen. Catrin Finch may have got on the `Yellow Label', but the Deutsche Grammophon of old it ain't. The film of the making of this album shows her entering the offices of `parent company' Universal Music, and taking with them. The talk is about reaching out to the rock pop culture audience, especially in Germany. The Deutsche Grammophon label appears to be just a yellow sticker to place somewhere on CD box these days. Catrin gets a makeover for a photoshoot. Black hair and leather. Very German rock chic. But also, big eyes, powerful features, and slender frame: very like Patti Smith in her late 1970's heyday.

The music of course, has nothing to do with the look, and no matter how many candles they put in the video with Catrin playing this music, no one hearing it will think that there is some classical/goth crossover thing going on here either.

Catrin Finch has approaches Bach's Air and 30 variations through Glen Gould's interpretations. Gould homed in on the melody, and let everything else fend for itself. No doubt knowing that this was safe to do with the work of a master like Bach. A recording of his 1981 performance shows him seated low on his chair by the piano, reaching up to the keys, lost in the music and cooing along with the birdsong like melody he coaxes out of the Aria on which the variations are based. In the video of Catrin the similarity between Gould's playing and her own can be seen in the loving way she caresses sound from her instrument.

Gould never apologised for playing a piano, and Catrin is not about to apologise for playing a harp. She revels in it's sound. Every gorgeous chiming, reverberating note. She is not interested in bending her harp to Bach's keyboard music. Via the mediation of Gould's interpretation she finds a away of crossing that keyboard to harp bridge. She is clearly not interested in doing what French harpist Sylvain Blassel has done on his own CD of the Goldberg Variations released at the same time. He has taken the keyboard music exactly as Bach composed it, with no concessions to the harp's limitations. Some people may well prefer his performance. It is a marvel of dexterity in the more demanding passages. But if he does not make concessions for his instrument, as Catrin does, by rearranging some passages, neither does he bring Cartin's understanding of the harp's strengths to his performance. He is a master technician, but there is not the same sense of him being in love with the sound of the harp.

This is a delightful disc. If there is a weakness it is that this is, for all the challenges of transferring the Goldberg to the harp, a pretty straight down the line performance. While I am glad Catrin didn't go down Sylvain Blassel's route, I do wish she had put some more light and shade, some more dynamics into her playing, without losing this wonderful sound. Many people have picked up on this. On repeated listening it is apparent that there is a wealth of detail in this performance, but it is very subtle. A bit more articulation, a bit more sparkle, would have turned this into the classic performance she has almost produced.
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on 13 October 2011
Catrin Finch undoubtedly is among the foremost hapinists of our time. Her realisation of Bach's Goldberg Variations is an invaluable addition to the 180 or so different interpreations of this unique piece of music available on CD. When listening to her playing, you tend to think that this piece has been written for the harp in the first place, although you certainly know that this is a "Clavieruebung" (piano exercise). Her playing is clear and subtle, with just the right balance between rationality and emotion. For us who are happy to own this recording, it is a listening exercise and a delight for mind and soil.

Max von Tilzer
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on 2 March 2009
Awesome! I caught an interview with Ms Finch on Radio 3, almost by accident; after hearing just one variation I knew I HAD to have this recording in my collection. This is not just music written by one of the worlds greatest composers: the musicianship displayed in the performance is truly excellent, likewise the musical understanding displayed in the transcription to the harp from the original.

Like I said - AWESOME. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 2 March 2009
A marvellous CD by a performer who is always striving to expand her repertoire. It provides a wonderful calming atmosphere, and my only regret is that I wasn't able to get to hear it live last month.

Chris Evans
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on 27 January 2009
Catrin Finch's Goldberg is truly amazing. And what's more she can play it live as it's all done on the one harp with no artificial studio interpretation! This is the first true interpretation of Goldberg on the harp. a magnificent achievement!
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on 22 February 2009
A masterly interpretation. So different from, but just as accomplished and inspiring as that of Glenn Gould.
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