If early music is relatively rare in Brighton and Hove outside of the Early Music Festival, harpsichord recitals are like hen’s teeth. So this performance of J S Bach’s Goldberg Variations was a rare treat to be savoured.
In his introduction Steven Devine referred to some academic doubt that these variations were ever intended to be played in one sitting. But Bach creates a unifying dramatic structure from the ebb and flow of textures, using a compendium of baroque dance forms alternating with canons.
Devine’s approach maintained a strong momentum over 80 minutes, pointing up the mesmeric effect of the repetitive harmonic patterns of variation form, and the constant chatter of the underlying rhythmic pace. But he also made the most of the contrasts and mood changes, without sounding over-mannered. The chromatic intensity of the minor key variations was well captured, as was the improvisational frenzy of the final two variations, creating a sudden release of tension when the simple opening aria returned at the end.
Ralli Hall was a perfect venue, well suited to the intimacy of a solo recital, and the audience’s attention was held throughout by a stylish, highly expressive and bravura performance. BREMF programming continues to delight.