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Recital reinvents beauty of Bach
Seattle Times music critic
This is why nothing can replace live concerts.
You can buy the new recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations by harpsichordist Richard Egarr, on the Harmonia Mundi label, and hear a note-perfect, brilliantly interpreted version of a masterpiece.
Or you can go hear Egarr in person, watching and listening as he completely reinvents the music, lingering here and forging ahead there. You can see the amusement in his face at a particularly witty phrase, or his determination in realizing the majestic torrent of notes in Variation 29. You can see his hands selecting one keyboard (manual) or the other — or both — and hear how this selection changes the musical outcome.
Richard Egarr, harpsichordist, in recital, presented by the Early Music Guild International Series; Town Hall, Saturday night
And then there's the unique sound of the particular harpsichord Egarr played in Seattle, built by David Jenks in the Flemish style of about 1700, and recently rebuilt by Seattle's David Calhoun. It's a choice instrument which either has remarkable properties of reverberation, or profited from placement in the acoustical "sweet spot" on the Town Hall stage. (It also was tuned unusually low on Saturday night.)
A recording doesn't let you hear Egarr's own views on the "Goldbergs," which he gave in some colorful pre-performance remarks about the "spacewalk" quality of the very adventurous Variation 25, and the harpsichord tuning system that makes certain chords sound with "a lot more garlic and vinegar."
It was a bit surprising to see Egarr using a score for the recital, in a repertoire that he has not only recorded but also toured with, but it certainly didn't make any difference in the performance. The British-born harpsichordist poured out ornate roulades and ornaments with tremendous ease, accuracy and style. Best of all, it was songlike, cantabile playing of the sort Bach used to request of his students.
Completely unpretentious, Egarr scheduled a pause halfway through the "Goldberg" Variations, when he removed the music stand, picked up a tuning wrench, and adjusted several troublesome notes. That's something else you won't get on a recording: a lesson in harpsichord tuning.
Melinda Bargreen: email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company