David Jalbert's performance of The Goldberg Variations inspirational at Stratford Summer Music

David Jalbert, piano,  “The Goldberg Variations,” Stratford Summer Music, August 15, 2012, St. Andrew’s Church, Stratford, Ontario

Any chamber in which Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is performed becomes, perforce, a shrine. The work is the very embodiment of the sacred and the sublime, occupying a central position in the canon of Western music. Earlier this season, David Jalbert brought a beautifully thought out interpretation of the Variations to London, close to the time of his recording of the set; this week, not long after the release of his remarkable compact disc, Jalbert returned to the area with a fresh and intense presentation of the same composition. Two performances in a year do not register as an overdose of Bach or of Jalbert. In fact, the effect of doubling served to reinforce the relevance of the music as a stabilizing factor in our frenetic lives, and to inform us, once again, that a fantastic musician in our midst puts a positive stamp on the fabric of our society.

The Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony brought with him to Leipzig a musician by the name of Goldberg. Bach provided Goldberg with some lessons, and eventually with a handsome set of variations with which to lull the insomniac ambassador to sleep. Count Kaiserling regarded the Variations as his; the title refers to the hired musician; the true credit belongs to Bach alone.

The cycle Bach created, a universe in 30 Variations, bracketed at beginning and end by a single Aria, possesses the purity of an atom and a limitless grandeur. Jalbert has obviously explored the minute particulars as well as the overarching structure that Bach “Prepared for the Enjoyment of Music-Lovers.”

In his introductory comments, Jalbert pointed out some of the array of combinations that occur throughout the course of the composition. These remarks about the texture, themes, relationships of melodies to bass line, greatly enhance the listener’s appreciation of the totality of Bach’s command of his craft.

As for Mr. Jalbert’s playing – it is natural, elegant, artful and full of heart; these are among the many attributes built into his musical personality. Jalbert approached a monument and considered it in all its aspects. He guided us toward the essence of the music, with his fantastic reservoir of technique and insight. Bach assumed a high level of proficiency on the part of performers, providing challenges for the player to negotiate as s/he dashes up and down the keyboard, executes trills with every pairing of digits at extreme velocity, shifts moods or tempi; it is safe to say that Bach taxed the musician’s resources to the limit. Jalbert sustained the spirit of spontaneity, even as he confronted the kaleidoscopic variety of invention contained within the score.

Of course, one must make mention of David Jalbert’s role as a modern interpreter of the “Goldberg Variations.” Glenn Gould, who this year would be celebrating his 80th birthday, were he alive, brought the amazing, formidable Variations to the attention of a large public (who would certainly join in birthday festivities). Gould set a standard to be sure, but it is time, and even essential, for new voices to be heard. Music should not be frozen, a fact recognized by the Master, Bach, himself. A great performance balances rigorous study alongside the wide-eyed wonder of improvisation. It is a tribute to Jalbert’s artistic gifts that he succeeds in maintaining the style and the spirit intrinsic in the music he performs.

Stratford Summer Music, under the direction of John A. Miller, is now in its 12th season. The program reaches into many corners of the world of music, and reaches out to a public interested in exploring genres as far ranging as chamber music, vocal music, jazz and more. The current season continues until September.

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Renée Silberman is an essayist on topics of musical interest who has authored program notes for performances in concert halls in Canada and the U.S. She is the founder of the Serenata Music Series.


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