Elizabeth Anderson plays Harpsichord
Elizabeth Anderson > reviews > SorÝ International Music Festival

Goldberg Variations

Elizabeth Anderson - Harpsichord

SorÝ International Music Festival


Last night, before the Australian harpsichordist Elizabeth Anderson approached the harpsichord of SorÝ Klosterkirke to play Bach's Goldberg Variations, she definitively refuted the myth that the Variations were composed as a remedy for Count Carl von Kayserlink's insomnia. - NO, she explained, they are - as Bach himself writes in his preface - to the glory of God, and for the refreshment of the spirit. After which she proceeded with the beautiful Aria and the following 30 Variations, in which it is not the melody itself, but its bass line, which forms the foundation.

After listening to her brilliant interpretation, the hour and a quarter the Variations takes, one must admit that they really are a very poor cure for insomnia.

No drowsiness

Absolutely none of the many listeners, located in a semicircle around the harpsichord in the upper end of the church, showed the least sign of drowsiness.

As usual with Bach there are at least two levels on which to hear the music: the outer level is immediately recognisable - and then the inner level can be analysed in every detail. Whether you choose the one or the other way of listening, there is enough to be pleased with in the Goldberg Variations.

On the first level, there is Bach's incredible ability of variation inside the given limits. The tempo ranges from expressive - spacious with room for trills and other ornaments - to virtuosic.

The melody alternates between bright major and melancholy minor. The touch is fascinatingly varied, even if the harpsichord is limited in this area. And Bach varies the pulse from one variation to the next.

On the second level, Bach makes the Goldberg variations an impressive gallery of late Baroque compositional techniques. There are canons between the upper voices at all imaginable intervals, canons at the unison, retrograde canons, fugues and fuguettas, free variations and so on.

Glory as deserved

Finally, in the 30th variation, he jests with 2 or 3 folksongs, which he weaves together with the bass theme. Probably someone noticed that one of the folksongs was (the old Danish childrens' song) Bro, bro, brille. Elizabeth Anderson's fine interpretation showed up every aspect of the music. She has a brilliant technique, the right and left hands are perfectly equal - extremely important in this music, because many of the variations are written as two voices of equal importance to be played on two keyboards.

Her ornamentation was no idle artifice, but an integral part of the musical expression. And then she had the courage, particularly in the slow variations, to play rubato in order to listen to the acoustics of the church. She made the room her adversary, so to speak, and daring that demands a wealth of experience.

All of us, who heard her performance left the church with refreshed spirits, and we could also sense that far up over the arches of the church, God the Father himself had received the glory he deserved.

Hans Krarup, Dagbladet, July 2000

translated from the Danish by Else Christensen & Astrid Thompsen

Copyright © 2003-4 Elizabeth Anderson. All rights reserved.