Bach: The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Travels and music being two of life’s utmost pleasures in my view, I often try to combine the two one way or another when I have some free time and/or receive an offer I simply cannot resist. This of course inevitably results in exhausting but exhilarating vacations, but then again, one only lives once.
This year I finally decided to join my mom for Aix-en-Provence’s five-year old Festival de Pâques. She’s been a regular since the classical music event’s opening and I have been enviously listening to her glowing reports ever since. This trip to France also provided the perfect opportunity to spend time in the truly lovely town of Aix, partake in long overdue family reunions, and shamelessly indulge in extremely fine dining and drinking. So never mind the frantic pace, including sleeping in six different places in eight days, I just knew it would be all worth it at the end.
That’s how, after my heathen mother copiously fed her many equally pagan guests sinful pâtés, including foie gras, and rabbit among many other goodies during an extended Good Friday lunch, she and I got up at 6:00 a.m. the following morning to beat an Easter weekend traffic that never materialized during the two-hour drive to Aix. On the other hand, our early arrival left us plenty of time to make the de rigueur stop at Les Deux Garçons brasserie, check out a couple of open air markets, and still make it to the 12:00 p.m. concert.
To ease us into the classical music groove, the first performance of our own three-concert festival was Bach’s timeless Goldberg Variations, which would be played by young Italian pianist Beatrice Rana in the small, eye-popping and packed Théâtre du Jeu de Paume.
Beatrice Rana may only be 24 years old, but her thoughtful and assured playing of Bach’s daunting masterpiece showed that she is blessed with a musical maturity way beyond her years while still displaying a healthy dose of youthful freshness and impetuosity. That also explained her still budding but already prestigious career.
Starting and ending with the famously delicate aria, the Goldberg Variations, which were allegedly written to help Count Hermann von Keyserling sleep and originally performed by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, a former student of the composer’s employed by the Count, is a work remarkable for its thorny structural complexity and genuine emotional appeal, spanning from childish wonder to breathless dancing to dark mysticism.
On Saturday, Rana resolutely stayed the course, effortlessly handling the technical challenges while keeping the endless density and inherent beauty of the music accessible to all. Her light touch was ideal for the exquisite aria that would launch the 30 variations, yet she also knew when to stir things up with strength and clarity. In short, those 75 minutes were a totally satisfying beginning of our own mini-festival and more than whetted our appetites for what was coming next.