Andreas Staier, Wigmore Hall

3.00

 

Ever since Glenn Gould’s best-selling recording was released in 1955, Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ have been so popular as to be almost crossover fare.

Yet Gould was taking a liberty in transposing the work to the piano: before him, this massive aggregation of keyboard virtuosity had been confined to the harpsichord - for which it was written – and as such had been the province of scholars. And whether or not it was composed to allow a brilliant young harpsichordist to serenade his sleepless employer – that pleasant story is probably apocryphal – Bach’s statement of intent did indeed suggest exclusivity: ‘composed for connoisseurs, for the refreshment of their spirits’.

Following Gould’s lead this work has been translated into many other sound-worlds, including string quartets, orchestras, and even the harp. Its essentially percussive aesthetic may not lend itself to bowed strings, though at some points the harp seems oddly appropriate. But the real debate turns on a stark choice: harpsichord or piano?

Andras Schiff, whose ECM recording is admirably eloquent and thought-through, believes an hour and a quarter of unadulterated harpsichord is just too long: listeners need the piano’s richer sonic fare. Andreas Staier is a leading champion of the harpsichord, and he prefaced his Wigmore recital with an interview on Radio 3’s ‘Music Matters’ in which he persuasively argued his instrument’s case. It all boiled down to tone colour, he said: with two manuals and a variety of stops, you can highlight the intricately-woven voices in a way the one-manual piano can never do.

Beginning and ending with an exquisitely ornamented Aria, the work describes a vast circle with toccatas, elegant character-pieces, and polyphonic canons coming round repeatedly in patterns of three. Staier’s approach was altogether too brisk and businesslike, and it wasn’t until the first climactic variation – the fifteenth – that he (literally) pulled the emotional stops out, choosing a lute-effect for Bach’s sudden foray into desolation. The 25th – Wanda Landowska’s famous ‘black pearl’ – became the occasion for Staier’s next experiment with colour, with the lower manual in theorbo-mode and the upper one singing plangently. Thereafter, as the work became progressively more uplifting, Staier’s playing at last seemed to flower, and when he completed the circle both he and the Aria seemed transformed. But Gould and Schiff still get my vote.

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Fern Britton's gardening challenge may grow into something special

Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Arts & Entertainment
Gian Sammarco plays Adrian Mole in 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'
books

Sue Townsend's much-loved character will live on
Arts & Entertainment
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show
TV

Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK

Arts & Entertainment
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Favour Asikpa and Thandie Newton in 'Half of a Yellow Sun'
film

Review: Half of A Yellow Sun

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?