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14 June 2019
"Stepan Simonian, described as specialist for the baroque composer, has recorded this piece on a modern piano. His playing is refined and rich in carefully elaborated details."Pizzicato, 05-7-2019
Why Bach? Why Goldberg?
Johann Sebastian Bach was a true “essence” of music: a composer who brought literally everything together in his output, bridging all periods from Gregorian chant almost all the way to Viennese Classicism. In his seven early keyboard toccatas we encounter a young man gifted with genius, enriched by a multitude of musical influences, and still tempted to adapt to the musical developments of his day.
By the time he wrote the Goldberg Variations, everything was different: Bach had become a great master who, as his contemporaries saw it, wrote music that was somewhat outmoded (which, I assume, is the reason why he did not become as popular and well-known as, say, Telemann or Handel). Among colleagues, however, Bach’s output was regarded with the highest esteem. His trajectory as a composer followed its own evident, immanent logic. Starting with this variation cycle, he wrote a series of works we can – and should – now view as the musical legacy he intended to leave to posterity (a series of works that included The Musical Offering).
Musical cycles such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, The Musical Offering or The Art of Fugue constitute the ne plus ultra in terms of Bach’s mastery of instrumental polyphony. The Goldberg Variations, conversely, present a compendium of his skill in composing variations.
Since this variation cycle is written for a two-manual harpsichord, we can assume that Bach himself regarded it as an important milestone in his art as a performer on that instrument. Whether this supposition be true or not, there is no doubt that the Goldberg Variations represent one of the most outstanding works in the entire musical repertoire.
In my own experience, each experience with this piece is like returning to my parents’ home. The path is familiar. It leads me past places and images I know well, filled and surrounded by a multitude of reminiscences. Each time I go down the path again, new images, colors, reflections, interpretations and dialogues appear.
Each time I perform, hear or study these variations, I uncover new dimensions. They are brimming with the finest nuances, implications, and emotionally charged associations. The familiar path to that familiar home remains the same path, but the way I walk down it becomes thoroughly different every time.
As in every great work of art, the essence of the Goldberg Variations is so multifaceted, versatile, ineffable, and unspeakably sublime that the only way a musician can truly approach this extraordinary work is, fortunately, by performing it.
The “Aria” with different Veränderungen (changes or variations) is a journey that takes a lifetime. In my life, this recording is a personal part of the path I have chosen. If someone else would like to join me for a step of the way, I’ll be glad to welcome them. © 2018 Stepan Simonian
Critically acclaimed as “one of the great Bach interpreters of his generation”, Stepan Simonian is driven by a yearning to explore and illuminate the multiple facets of the great works of piano repertoire, particularly by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach.
His Silver Medal at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in 2010, his training within a well-cultured piano school tradition at Moscow Conservatory under Pavel Nersessian, as well as with Oleg Boshniakovich, then with Evgeni Koroliov in Hamburg, all form part of the experiences that have marked his musical taste, his interpretations, and his teaching.
Born in Moscow in 1981, Simonian won First Prize at the 2005 Virginia Waring International Piano
Competition, and Third Prize at the 2008 Jose Iturbi International Piano Competition, both in the US.
In recognition of his achievements in chamber music, he was awarded the prestigious Berenberg Cultural Prize in 2009 in Hamburg, where he has made his home. In 2014 he won Third Prize at the Aram Khachaturian International Piano Competition in Yerevan, Armenia.
Stepan Simonian is invited to perform at some of the most important festivals and concert venues
throughout Europe and the US, He has appeared as a soloist with many national and international
orchestras and conductors. Stepan’s performances have been broadcast on television channels and
major classical stations including ARD, MDR Leipzig, NDR Hamburg, SWR Stuttgart, HR Frankfurt, BR
Munich, Deutschlandradio Kultur, and Radio France.
His début CD, a complete recording of J. S. Bach’s toccatas for keyboard for the GENUIN label, was highly praised by music critics. 2018 the cpo label released Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto and Concert Rhapsody with the Rheinische Philharmonie State Orchestra conducted by Daniel Raiskin. In 2019 the Cologne label CAvi-music published Simonian’s second Bach CD: the Goldberg Variations, recorded in cooperation with NDR.
Since 2009 Stepan Simonian has been a tenured professor at his alma mater, the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, where he lectures in solo piano performance.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He enriched established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and hundreds of cantatas. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.
Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest in and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.
Stepan Simonian, described as specialist for the baroque composer, has recorded this piece on a modern piano. His playing is refined and rich in carefully elaborated details.