French pianist has something to say about the Goldberg Variations

03.08.18
Alexandre Tharaud
Washington Post

In the decades since Glenn Gould’s revolutionary 1955 recording, Bach’s Goldberg Variations have gone from an esoteric object of specialist interest to a ubiquitous rite of passage. Pianists today seemingly take on this monumental set of keyboard variations for the same reason George Mallory professed that he climbed Mount Everest: because it’s there.

But in a crowded field, the intelligent French pianist Alexandre Tharaud stands out. He has something to say in this music, and in an engrossing Washington Performing Arts recital on Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, Tharaud offered a set of Goldbergs on a remarkably intimate and human scale.

In Tharaud’s hands, the work was less an Olympian achievement than a highly personal musical exploration, full of character and spontaneity. Each variation bristled with individuality: the undercurrent of vulnerability in Variation 6; the dreamy lyricism of Variation 13; the playfulness that gently ironized the majesty of the French overture; and the joyous trills and pointillist effects of Variation 28.

Performing with the score and observing most repeats, the Frenchman used the full resources of the modern piano, bringing ever-so-delicate shadings to his soft playing, but without ever sacrificing clarity or the rhythmic spirit of baroque dance. His voicing and articulation were delightfully varied, and his use of embellishments was imbued with a delectable spirit of improvisation.
 
Read the rest of the review here