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GRAMOPHONE (07/2016)
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Reviewer: Jed Distler


I first became aware of Pascal Dubreuil through his recording of Bach’s English Suites, which Lindsay Kemp praised with reservations (9/13). The harpsichordist’s Goldberg Variations share certain of the earlier release’s virtues and drawbacks. Like his erstwhile teacher Yannick le Gaillard (whose own magnificent Goldbergs deserve reissue), Dubreuil possesses an acutely refined technique. You notice this mostly in both accounts of the Aria and in slower, lyrical variations where the harpsichordist binds legato lines with subtly varied finger overlapping, akin to a pianist who commands the sustain pedal’s innermost secrets. Such finesse extends to his understated ornamentation. What is more, Dubreuil approaches these movements with a sense of breadth and flexibility only hinted at in the English Suites. Take Var 13, for example. The way Dubreuil lingers on certain key notes or how the phrases organically expand and contract enlivens Bach’s melodic trajectory without sounding the least bit fussy or mannered. The revered ‘Black Pearl’ Var 25 is similarly aria-like, while virtuoso showpieces such as the double-manual Vars 5 and 20 take on a slower, more vocally orientated perspective than usual. By contrast, the traditionally slow and ceremonial Var 15 will surprise listeners for its brisk angularity and uncommonly prominent bass-line.


However, what ultimately holds Dubreuil back from the Goldbergs’ top tier are his dry and dragging accounts of Var 29 and the canons at the fourth and the octave (Var 12 and 24), not to mention the sound of registrations being changed between variations. The robustly resonant engineering exaggerates these noises, and they ought to have been edited out. Dubreuil provides clear, informative annotations and observes all repeats, save for the Aria da capo.

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