The Philosophical Quest of Bach’s "Goldberg" Variations

On WCRB’s CD of the Week, pianist Ji offers his reflections on one of music’s most enduring spiritual journeys.

You may remember the pianist featured on this week's CD of the Week, Ji, from the 2016 Grammys. He starred in an Android commercial in which all 88 keys of a piano were tuned to the same pitch, as he played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

This performance launched Ji into the spotlight. Viewers were astounded by his fiery performance, and wanted to know who this mystery pianist was.

In Ji's latest album, recorded here in our Fraser Performance Studio, he turns his attention to Bach's Goldberg Variations. It's a standout performance, with a fresh and modern look at the variations.

The pianist writes of Bach, "Playing this music has taught me the ability to open up my mind; to remind myself constantly to put myself in others' shoes; even those of someone who walked the earth more than 300 years ago, and who left us with music that continues to connect souls... Even though we are centuries apart, Bach has left us this music to create a synergy that is greater than all of us combined. I feel like a lot of the time, we neglect the fact that these composers were like us, that they had human desires, human ambitions, human problems – all the emotions they dealt with on a day-to-day basis. I want that to come out in the music.”

And it does. The Aria that begins the Variations is wistful and sweet, and, as the piece progresses, Ji brings the fire and passion for which he's known. Some of the variations he imbues with a jazzy undercurrent. Others are contemplative and reserved. As a whole, the album conveys a strong sense not only of Bach's compositional voice, but of Ji's musicianship.

Listen to a track from the album:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.