REVIEW – Bach’s Goldberg Variations are seen as the pinnacle of virtuosic performance as hands leap from one side of the keyboard to the other- and cross over with trills that are played at an impossible pace. The variations are a group of Baroque styles, from canons, gigs and French overtures. The audience are supposed to be taken on a journey which ends satisfyingly where it started –the Aria. Then why didn’t I feel part of this journey into Bach’s universe and instead felt quite distant from the whole performance?
Of course, it was a pleasure to watch Benjamin Alard playing the Harpsichord (made by Jonte Knif, German model) on the 29th March, at the Salle Cortot, Paris. This talented musician was awarded first prize in 2004, at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges. He now performs recitals on both the organ and the harpsichord around Europe, Japan and North America. It is impressive to observe his mastery of the technical challenges of the variations while playing sensitively and keeping authentic Baroque performance at the heart of the concert. He played fast running arpeggios with ease, and every trilled note sounded crystal clear. The audience were captivated by his performance as they leant in to see how he managed the leaps and hand crosses on the harpsichord.
Interestingly, Bach composed the variations for an insomniac. Count Kaiserling from Russia, ordered Bach to compose some soothing music to help him with his sleepless nights. These variations were to be played by the pianist, Goldberg. As I sat listening, I could understand how this beautifully structured music could cheer up a count in his sleepless nights. It was relaxing, repetitive but not entirely absorbing. As Alard finished the final Aria, there was a short pause followed by rapturous applause, the audience were impressed… except one member. Too bad she had to write about it!
Alard dedicated the performance to the Canadian harpsichordist, Gordon Murray.