Bach: Goldberg Variations, S.988. Marie Nazar, piano. Ardani Classics AA199901, © 1999, 75:06, $16.99 plus shipping,
available from Adrani Artists (212/399-0002 or [inactive 10/05]) or directly from the artist at 609/799-6125.

Does the world really need another recording of the Goldberg Variations on piano, when it was written for harpsichord, and when Murray Perahia’s recording won the Grammy Award in 2000 and the Gramophone Award in 2001? I asked myself this question when I was given this CD to review. Then I listened to it, and then I listened to it again. Then, because the comparison was inevitable, I listened to Perahia’s, and to Nazar’s yet again.

Perahia plays the work in 72:29, hence about 2.5 minutes faster than Nazar. (Glenn Gould’s famous 1955 recording takes 38:40.) Most of the variations are within seconds of having identical timings. There are significant differences (i.e., 1/2 minute or more) in numbers 6, 9, 13, 15, 25, and the repeat of the aria at the close. Curiously, Perahia is slower in a few instances. How do they compare in other respects? The pianists seem quite different in their approaches to the work. Perahia seems to be making a statement while Nazar seems to be playing simply to entertain. The Perahia booklet contains a brief exposition on how he perceives the work to be constructed; Nazar’s only statement is a dedication of sorts: “To music lovers for the pleasure of their souls.” Perahia seems to be playing for the concert hall while Nazar is playing as if in an intimate salon. Perahia is bold where Nazar is restrained, impetuous where she is sedate (I expected the reverse!), cold where she is warm. His touch seems heavy-handed where hers is light, delicate, and measured, much more in keeping with the intended harpsichord. Needless to say, no serious errors or slip-ups are detectable from either.

Who is this talented pianist? Marie Nazar (Mariam Nazarian) is now 18; she recorded the Goldbergs in May 1999, when she was 15, on a Steinway (like Perahia) at SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center. She played them in the Glenn Gould studio in Toronto at 14, and in public at Carnegie Hall on October 21, 1999 (reputedly the youngest pianist ever to do so, although they were supposedly written for a prodigious teenager, so one doesn’t know if she’s the youngest person ever to have played them), and elsewhere subsequently. Nazar is Armenian, and studied under Zaven Parsamyan at the Tchaikovsky School of Music in Yerevan. He now teaches at the St. John International School of the Arts in Maryville, TN, and Nazar continues to study with him. She debuted in the US in 1995, and moved here in 1996 to study with Alexander Fiorillo at Temple University in Philadelphia until 1999. The minimalist booklet, which has a photo with names of the composer, work and artist on the front, another of her hands only and the bio on the inside, and yet another with the tracks and timings, and the dedication and the recording info on the back, characterizes Nazar as “Phenomenon! Virtuoso!” beneath the bio. This seems not to be an exaggeration.

I answered my opening question by deciding that this is a winner and a keeper for me. I’m playing it in my living room! The world is richer for Nazar’s having made this recording.