One of the world's most magnificent musical creations, Bach's Goldberg Variations was written for two-manual harpsichord. There are numerous recordings of this piece performed by harpsichordists and pianists. However, listeners have had no opportunities to hear side-by-side performances on both instruments by the same performer.
For a long time I entertained the idea of performing the work on both instruments during the same concert. In 2001, I had the rare opportunity to make my dream come true. Two complete performances of the Goldberg Variations -- one on harpsichord and another on piano, preceded by a lecture -- were presented to an overflowing house at Jessen Auditorium, University of Texas at Austin, where I teach. The response from the community, including my colleagues, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I was encouraged repeatedly to share this program with broader audiences, which brought me to a variety of stages in the USA and Europe.
This program was hailed as "one of the most refreshing and thought-provoking performances of this season" (Austin American-Statesman, Michael Huebner) and earned the prestigious Mount Everest Award given by the Austin Critics Table. MIchael Barnes, chief arts critic of the Austin American-Statesman at the time, ranked it as one of the top 10 arts events of 2001, calling it "unforgettable".
Later I made a studio recording I am offering to your attention now.
The set of two CDs includes two complete performances, one on harpsichord and another on piano.
This DVD contains an introductory talk, a demonstration of selected variations on harpsichord and piano side by side, and two complete performances on each instrument accompanied by a display of the score. It addresses the history of this piece's creation, the legend attached to it, and an analysis of its architecture. It also allows for a comparison of the expressiveness of both harpsichord and a piano as played by one performer. The rhythmical energy and linear clarity of the harpsichord is contrasted with the lyrical warmth and dynamic flexibility of the modern piano, allowing new insights into the most sensitive issues regarding interpretation of Bach's keyboard music, such as the intricacies of counterpoint, dynamics, articulation, pedaling, and tempi.
Performing this piece on harpsichord built as a replica of those typical for Baroque time allows a priceless glimpse into Bach's world. How would he play it? How would he shape the phrases on an instrument that does not respond to dynamics we are so used to on the piano? How would he employ articulation combining various degrees of legato and non legato for clarity and expressiveness? How would he use two keyboards and various registers for balance and colors? The harpsichord itself leads to many answers.
Bringing this music to modern piano sheds new life to the interpretive possibilities. To what degree will I use dynamics and pedaling? How will I utilize longer decay of the sound for the benefits of counterpoint?
I found these challenges marvelously stimulating. Aiming for the best possible musical result, regardless of the instrument, taught me to be fully aware of the endless possibilities this music offers.
I hope that listeners will not compare the two performances to decide which instrument is "better". It is my desire to provide a unique opportunity to explore the expressiveness of each instrument as played by one performer.