REVIEW: Charles Owen, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Milton Court, London
19 February 2014
Charles Owen© John Batten
The newly opened Milton Court hosted a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988 as part of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Faculty Artist Series – Charles Owen, professor of piano at the Guildhall, chose to play all the repeats.
Each movement had its individual character but we never lost sight of the overall progression of the journey. Charles Owen is a pianist who makes spontaneous decisions and is prepared to take a risk in performance and thus breathe new life into a familiar work. The mesmeric una corda-inspired sound world he conjured up in Variation 19 was unique, for example. Owen employs instinctive pacing, epitomised in Variations 10 – when he irresistibly conducted with his free right hand the stating of the subject before it too joined in the Fughetta – and in Variation 14, which couldn’t contain its excitement and almost exploded onto the scene.
There were a few moments, to my ear, in the early Variations when the rhythmic discipline of left hand accompaniments nearly overstated the independence of the hands; but otherwise they combined to produce the desired effect whether it was playfulness in dance, jubilant flourish or sparkling cascade.
Milton Court is a state-of-the-art concert hall and musicians can ‘tune’ the hall acoustically by manipulating wooden panels and other such devices. In fact, the acoustic was left in default mode, with the pianist choosing only to set the gentle tone of the lighting for this evening. By the end, the hall was illumined with stars – the characters we had got to know on our shared journey.
The Faculty Artist Series continues with an evening celebrating the life of James Gibb (1918 – 2013), former Head of Keyboard Studies at the Guildhall School on 21 February