Picks and Pans Review: Bach: Goldberg Variations

updated 06/08/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

BEETHOVEN: DIABELLI VARIATIONS
and SATIE: WORKS FOR PIANO
Daniel Varsano, piano

Varsano, a 27-year-old Parisian, is this season's keyboard phenom. While these ambitious releases confirm the raves of French critics about his technique, they leave one puzzling over accompanying bouquets like "enchantment" and "exemplary mastery." He over-intellectualizes the breathtaking Goldberg Variations, annunciating the counterpoint with such didactic care that Bach's whirlwind canons are reduced to a series of lifeless tableaux. The companion disc in a two-record set, Beethoven's gargantuan Diabelli Variations, meets a similar fate, but for a different reason. Varsano negotiates the Alpine crags of the score like a hurdler, creating the impression of an energetic but strongly ascetic personality. That impression is partially reversed by the Satie album. In terms of technical complexity, Satie is to Bach and Beethoven as a rubber-band airplane is to the space shuttle. But his miniatures glow with satire, pastel tenderness and earthy vigor—all which Varsano conveys vibrantly. Satie's directness seems to spring the pianist out of his self-conscious self-discipline. As Varsano matures, he may find a way to meld heart and mind more consistently.

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