GOLDBERG VARIATIONS CRISTIAN SANDRIN at St Mary’s

Tuesday 13 October 4.00 pm

Cristian Sandrin (piano)


Bach: Goldberg variations BWV 988

A very fine first outing for Cristian Sandrin’s Goldberg and what courage after months in lockdown to choose a new work from his repertoire : the Goldberg Variations, that without repeats lasts the 50 minutes of St Mary’s Live Stream Tuesday recitals.

Playing without the score it was a tour de force indeed.

Even Rosalyn Tureck who had played them all her life had aide memoire cards in the piano except on the occasion when she was about to cancel her concert in Florence.I told her it was a pity because the head of Deutsche Grammophon was coming especially! She was well into her 80’s but not only played them but played them completely without the score.Even she came momentarily adrift though in the treacherous 23rd variation as Cristian today had had one or two slight moments of doubt too.

Tureck was invited on that performance to make her very last recording of her long career.Cristian too today demonstrated his supreme musicianship and simple command of the keyboard allied like Tureck to a sense of structure and overall architectural shape.

After the 29th virtuoso variation one usually hears an almost triumphant Quodlibet (Busoni played it fortissimo with all the trumpets ringing) but in Cristian’s hands it was played in a very subdued way leading so naturally to the magical repeat of the Aria .But the Aria very gradually and in such good style grew in intensity dissolving to the final chord after a journey of a lifetime.

It was a wonderful musicianly idea and gave a totally satisfying shape to this monumental work.

From the very first note there was a crystalline clarity and a beauty of sound that was created by very little use of the sustaining pedal but rather use of a finger legato that gave great weight and substance to the sound even in the most touchingly profound 25th variation or the dark brooding of the 21st.There was also a great sense of energy from the very first variation and some transcendental piano playing in the 14th and 26th amongst many others.

The great french overture of the 16th that signals the end in sight was played with a nobility and sense of style that was remarkable.There was delicacy too from the outset in the 2nd variation with the gentle left hand continuo meandering along like water in a brook over which sang a simple duet between two voices.It led so rightly to the gentle lilt of the canon in unison of the 3rd variation .I am used to hearing the 4th variation slower as the first suggestion of the grandeur that is to come but Cristian played it with such commanding authority I was swept along on this continuous undercurrent that he created from the first to the last note of this monumental work.

The variations were written for the insomniac Count von Kesserling who had asked Bach to write some pieces of ‘smooth and lively character’ to relieve the tedium of his sleepless nights.Johann Goldberg ,a pupil of Bach and an artist of outstanding reputation was harsichordist to the Duke and it is his name that has become associated with the variations.

The ‘knotty twine’ of the fifth variation that Bach does not specify if for 1 or 2 manuals was played with a true jeux perlé of such delicacy that it belied the transcendental difficulty of playing this variation on the single keyboard.

Bach did know the piano in its early stage but it has evolved through several centuries,its style changing with each era.The justifiable performance of Bach on the piano is conditioned by the usage of pianistic devices such as these.

To quote Rosalyn Tureck :’One may choose the instrument but with music and instrument treated with respect and knowledgeable art,the integrity of the music should stand,retaining its clarity,its structure and its infinite significance to the human spirit’

There was a great contrast with the almost pastoral simplicity of the 7th variation the playful 8th and the deeply contemplative 9th.And as if to remind us that we are on a long journey it was back to business with the almost military style Fughetta of the 10th.

The ravishing beauty of the 13th variation was treated with such aristocratic care by Cristian that the contrast between the transcendental eruption of the 14th was even more astonishing.The gentle yearning of the 15th was played so eloquently and with such nostalgia dissolving at the end into thin air.

The French overture I have mentioned before and it signifies the half way mark of the variations.A subdued suggestion of what is to come in the 18th variation was very moving and was answered by the gentle lilt of the 19th.The excitement mounting with the transcendental difficulties of the 20th was followed by the dark brooding of the 21st.The 22nd reminds us of the long journey we are on before the treacherously difficult 23rd variation which even Tureck treated with caution.The sublime 25th with its yearning ornamentation ( Cristian had told me of Imogen Cooper’s hilarious way of describing this way of leaning expressively on the first note)Now the virtuosistic final variations( the 26th even playing 18/16 against 3/4 ) leading to what infact is the final variation the 29th (this variation was one of Tureck’s favourite encore pieces together with the Gigue from the first partita).

The 30th variation stands outside the formal plan between variations 1 and 29.

To quote Tureck again’The 30th or Quodlibet is a joke.A musical prank which the Bach family and their friends used to indulge in on social occasions.It consists of two folk songs:”I have not been with you for so long” and “Cabbages and turnips have driven me away”.The melodies of which are developed contrapuntally and follow the harmony of the aria,as do all the variations.The humorous and good-natured style of the last variation of this colossal work reminds one of the humour of the last fugue in B minor Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier,finishing off, as it does,a great and varied collection of elaborately conceived works.’

The ending of the Goldberg Variations is given to the Aria with the return to the beginning completing the life cycle.It is one of the most sublime moments in music and Cristian captured it with such poignancy that I am sure the audience from wherever they were listening would have relished the moment of silence that this communion with one’s soul demands.

Born to a family of musicians from Bucharest, Romania, Cristian Sandrin made his solo debut at prestigious Romanian Atheneum Hall at the age of 13. After graduating the “Dinu Lipatti” Art College in Bucharest, Cristian moved to London where he studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Having graduated with First Class Honours in 2016, he is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree at the same institution. He is currently a receiver of the Piano Fellowship of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Martin Musical Scholarship Fund 2017/2018, benefiting also from a scholarship of the Imogen Cooper Music Trust.Cristian Sandrin won numerous prizes and awards at international and national competitions. A Second Prize Winner of the Windsor International Piano Competition (2018), Third Prize Winner of the Sheepdrove Intercollegiate Piano Competition (2018), Prize winner of the Yourii Boukoff International Competition in Sofia (2009), a runner up of the Automobile Club de France Piano Competition in Paris (2011) and a First Prize winner of the ProPiano Competition (2012), At the Royal Academy of Music he has been awarded the William Sterndale Bennett Prize for a recital of Romantic repertoire and in 2016 has been awarded the Harold Craxton Prize for chamber music.Cristian had his solo debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in London in September 2017. His passion for conducting led him to direct numerous piano concertos by Mozart from the keyboard. Other London highlights include solo and chamber performances at the St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James Piccadilly Church and the Freemason Hall. In Romania, Cristian Sandrin is a regular guest artist of the Filarmonica “Mihail Jora” Bacau, the Sibiu Sibiu Philharmonic, Ramnicu-Valcea National Philharmonic and Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. Other international engagements include performances at “La Fenice” Theatre in Venice, Theatre de la Montjoie, Salla Manuel de Falla in Madrid, Palazzo Ricci in Montepulciano, the Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest, and “Bulgaria Philharmonic Hall” in Sophia.

I had heard Rosalyn Tureck in London on the 29th September 1972 in the Royal Festival Hall when she played the variations first on the harpsichord and then after an hour interval on the piano.I could not understand why no one in Rome had heard of her.

Some years later having opened with my actress wife a theatre next to St Peter’s Square I had the opportunity to invite her and Tatyana Nikolaeva to play the Goldberg Variations.

Rosalyn had not played for almost twenty years as she had decided to concentrate on her study of Bach in Oxford where she was a fellow of St Hilda’s.She created the Oxford Bach Research Institute that she invited me to become a trustee of many years later.She was nominated by the eminent NY critic Harold Schonberg as the High Priestess of Bach and Rubinstein quipped the Tureck made Bach box office .

The comparison between her and Nikolaeva was quite extraordinary.Nikolaeva based her interpretation on the song and the dance element whereas Tureck put him on a pedestal the rock on which civilisation is born.

Faites vos jeux ……..but the jeux is always Bach’s!

This is the season at the Ghione Theatre in 1991/92

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