No matter the number of recordings of the Goldberg Variations that are available, there never seems to be a shortage of keyboardists who have something to add to these pieces. Ingrid Marsoner, a young pianist from Graz, Austria, is yet another. She was taught by her father, an organist, before beginning studies with Sebastian Benda, himself a pupil of Edwin Fischer. In addition, sheRead more studied with Rudolf Kehrer, who, according to her biography, was to make the biggest impression on her. In addition, she has participated in master classes with some of the most renowned pianists and pedagogues in the world, such as Paul Badura-Skoda and Tatiana Nikolayeva.
If there is one thing that I can say about her performance of the Goldberg Variations here, it is that she has a fabulous sense of articulation; there is hardly a note that is not as clear as day. Her playing of the theme has a nice sense of lilt, setting up from the beginning a sense of lightheartedness and spiritedness. Immediately thereafter, she lets each variation take the tempo that most satisfies the character that she sees in it: the first’s rapid, light, and bouncy two-part dance, and the ninth’s contemplative, reflective, and solemn three-part canon. Her flowing and mellifluous performance of the figuration in variation 13 creates one of the most beautiful renditions of the piece that I’ve come across, and is surely one of the highlights of the recording. In her playing of variation 15’s exquisite minor-mode canon at the fifth, Marsoner is a bit matter-of-fact for my taste. She seems to be more interested in smoothing out the dissonances and lessening the grave character of the movement for a more rounded and flowing one, which to my ears works against the inherent nature of the piece. Here and in the 25th variation, with its slow, chromatic, and inwardly reflective qualities, she seems to be least successful; her playing is beautiful, perhaps too much so. The dramatic, almost painful, effect of this set’s gem is lost. She concludes the variations with highly spirited playing, creating an almost lilting dance-like quality in the 26th variation, as in the aria of the beginning, leading to the dramatic toccata-like variation 29. Marsoner’s voicing is particularly exquisite in the quodlibet of variation 30, leading to a simple restatement, now without the repeats, of the aria, which began it all.
Marsoner’s playing is enticing at its best, perhaps lacking only in the most emotionally saturated moments of the set. She is a highly spirited player, who uses tempo as only one part of her arsenal for that effect, and who pays careful attention to dynamics, articulation, and voicing, all to the benefit of the music. My first choice after all of these years remains Glenn Gould (Sony 52594), but I have heard so many fine interpretations in the last few years—in addition to so many fine recordings made over the course of the last century—that I’d hardly be happy to have only his. If you like your Bach sprightly and fun, Marsoner is your pianist.