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Goldberg Variations - Matthew Halls - Fanfare

01 September 2010
Scott Noriega

Matthew Halls, the former artistic director of the King's Consort and the current one of the Retrospect Ensemble, is a name new to me in the solo-harpsichord world-and rightly so, as this too is his debut recording in that capacity. Halls takes a very different stance than does Schirmer. From the beginning, there is a bit more aggression to his playing. He keeps brisker tempi, using rubato sparingly but effectively, while also keeping a heavier sound and a grander approach overall. He is also not afraid to ornament throughout the variations, though at times he is inconsistent in ornamentation of canons-a minor quibble perhaps, but annoying nonetheless. The difference is immediately apparent when comparing their approach to the first variation: Schirmer is dance-like, bouncy, and gentle, where Halls is determined, assertive, and energetic. The slow, minor variations have a bit more emotional weight than do Schirmer's as well. In Variation 21, Halls maintains a seriousness of intent by dragging out the note length to highlight dissonances, altering the registrations on repeats for contrast, though he, too, plays the gem that is Variation 25 just a bit too matter-of-factly. That is not to say that Halls has no delicate moments in his recording. In the lighter arioso-like Variation 13, he creates a nice moment when using the lute-stop for the bass, while maintaining the regular registration for the figurative patterns. In addition to the Goldbergs, Halls offers the other two variation sets for solo keyboard by Bach, something that may or may not be of interest to some. Both are performed well, and make nice additions to this already fine disc. This is, once again, a very good solo debut from an artist of whom I hope to hear more of soon.
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J.S. Bach: Goldberg VariationsJ.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations