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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

A considerable degree of patience is required to get through Samuele Telari’s rendition of the Goldbergs. In our October 2020 issue, we learnt from Lindsay Kemp’s cover story that Bach’s 30 variations encompass ‘nearly 80 minutes’ worth of virtuoso brilliance’. Here, the whole thing comes to just under 93 minutes. What makes it so damned long? A simple answer is that the accordion requires a whole different pacing to performances on the piano or harpsichord. Unlike the immediate pluck or hammered action of its keyboard cousins, the accordion requires a moment to get going. Over the course of the Variations, these half-seconds add up like pennies in a jacket pocket: heavy and ultimately unwanted.

But it’s not just down to instrument – and Andreas Borregaard’s windswept performance for BIS proves this. Telari’s account, put simply, lingers too much for too long. The exploratory tempo of Var 15, for example, is unwieldy and laborious. Var 21 gets lost. The opening Aria is also somewhat difficult to listen to; at 5'48", it is by no means the longest interpretation out there, yet it feels much longer than its sum of seconds.

There are, admittedly, some remarkable moments, too, and Telari’s Bayan accordion affords all kinds of fascinating detail and colours. The jaunt of Var 1 is sunshine in a cup and Var 5 bubbles over in a similar liquid most pleasantly. In Var 8, the prominence of the accordion’s mechanics – the tapping of keys against the squeeze of sound – is quite lovely. Var 13 is perhaps the most exquisite on offer here. Telari conjures so much feeling with Bach’s material: there is copious light and shade, sadness laced with hope.

By all means this is a fascinating account, though I can’t help but wonder whether the incorporation of other instruments – an oboe, violin or bassoon, perhaps – would make for a more successful chamber arrangement. The accordion would then be left to sing and churn and groan in its most unique way.

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