Chiyan Wong - Bach - Busoni: Goldberg Variations & Other Works - The Classic Review

This is unusual. Rather than performing the original Goldberg Variations, pianist Chiyan Wong chooses a heavily edited and redacted version prepared by Ferruccio Busoni, for his Bach edition of 1914. Bosoni’s intention was to revive the variations and make them suitable to the audience of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Many of the variations are added bass lines, extra octaves and unusual ornamentation. 9 variations are admitted completely. The edition also does not include the usual repetition marks, making the whole work last roughly 30 minutes rather than the commonly performed complete edition of 70.

Hearing the first variation that gets the full “Busoni treatment” may come as a shock, especially when the Aria is played so impressively. Wong goes for a more lyrical and sentimental treatment of Bach, maybe similarly to Alexandre Tharaud and Murray Perahia. When Busoni alters the melodic line slightly to accommodate the two keyboards writing, it works naturally, and Wong’s playing ensures that the changes are almost imperceptible, maybe save for listeners who are intimately familiar with the original version. I was less convinced, though, by the added octaves in the bass (as in the final bar of variation 4), and felt it went for cheap applause. At the end of this intriguing performance of the Goldbergs, I wished Wong would give us a recording of the complete and original score. The quality of his playing certainly demands it.

The album finishes with a well-played rendition of Busoni’s best-known arrangement, that of Bach’s Chaconne from the second violin Partita. It’s a mellow approach to the difficult arrangement, with the quiet sections no less penetrating than the virtuosic ones. Wong’s treatment of the detached notes on both hands as non-legato (2’19”) shows impressive pianism, and so is the voicing of the thick writing at 17’18”. It’s a shame that the challenging arpeggios at 13’40” suffer from over-pedaling. Linn’s recording engineering is outstanding.

The Classic Review
24 March 2021