Goldberg Variations/ Variations (J.S. Bach/Tepfer)
Carlo Wolff reviews Dan Tepfer's ambitious 'Goldberg Variations'
The 62 short pieces on this voyage into one of Bach’s signature works effectively extend the life of a classic whose original purpose was both didactic and entertainment-oriented. As Glenn Gould did 30 years ago, Tepfer treats Bach with respect but not reverence. This is not “jazzified” Bach, as in Jacques Loussier’s more sentimental version. Tepfer is not in awe of the Baroque master; rather, he makes Bach a colleague in joy, reminding the listener of the sturdiness and ambition of the original even as he lays claim to new territory.
Tepfer’s variations, like Bach’s, are numbered, not titled. This is, after all, an exercise, a limbering up, albeit one that stands on its durable and ravishing own. They span the impossibly fast #11, a “canonic” #7 with overtones of boogie, a dark #25, which is a showcase for left hand that Tepfer calls “obsessive,” and the knottily chorded #23, which has a winning brazenness. Tepfer is a pianist of extraordinary technique; his touch isn’t exactly gossamer, but his rhythmic sense is solid, his harmonic sensibility fearless. The album brings out the dry wit behind the formality that also defines Bach’s work.
Unlike the tempestuous Gould, Tepfer deploys a more measured approach spanning the bravura of #47 and the occasional, and welcome, journey into a more leisurely and casual style, as on #27. The album is a welcome blend, a creative fast-forward treatment of an iconic work.