At first I did not think I was going to get on with Masaaki Suzuki's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Right from the start he makes a point of spreading the texture of the Aria horizontally to an extent that I find musically uncalled for. Elsewhere in this great set of variations a degree of textural spreading by staggering the hands affords additional variety and contrast, but to over-apply it to the Aria is to deny this sarabande something of its sublime nobility and simply expressive restraint. A personal reaction, certainly, but it got me off to a bad start. Happily, though, from the First Variation to the Quodlibet (Var. 30) I found myself carried along by Suzuki's virtuosity
and his very clearly argued understanding of the music. For this recording he has chosen an instrument by Willem Kroesbergen, modelled on a Ruckers.
The mannerisms present in the Aria, about which Suzuki will undoubtedly have given careful thought, are in stark contrast to his performance elsewhere; for this is, by and large, rather selfeffacing playing, free from quirks, gimmicks and inclination towards redundant highlighting of harmonic moments in the text. Some additional ornaments are applied, but always discreetly and effectively. Suzuki has a clear sense of line and an engaging rhythmic sense. Var. 29 is given a more graceful rhythmic shape than almost any rival version that I know. He brings out the lyrical content of the music with limpid articulation and lucid textures, both of which virtues are abundantly present in Vars. 11, 20 and 23. Occasionally, I found him a shade unresponsive to dance rhythms or, rather, the spirit of a dance. The 9/8 rhythm of Var. 24 seemed a little leaden to my ears. Var. 25 comes over well, with an effective halting rhythm at the outset, and an expressive cogency liberated from the present implications conjured up by Landowska's 'Black Pearl'. The Quodlibet, a joyful, carefree piece, moves with easy gesture but is, perhaps, a touch too serious in intent. Technically, there is little that goes awry in Suzuki's impressive performance though there is a hint of scramble towards the end of the second-half repeat of Var. 8.
While Suzuki has not toppled either Maggie Cole (Virgin, 2/92 - nla) or Pierre Hantal from my first affections, his polished, well-sustained and honest playing, in which he observes all but a handful of repeats, belongs up there with them. The booklet contains an excellent, at times debunking, essay by Yo Tomita.
-- Gramophone [3/1998]