According to Bach's first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach's celebrated Goldberg Variations were originally composed for an insomniac patron, Count Keyselingk – the Russian Ambassador to the Court at Dresden.
'Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining room to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some harpsichord pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them during his sleepless nights'.
French pianist Alexandre Tharaud's magisterial performance last night was so thrilling Keyselingk would have been dancing in the aisles, rather than getting tangled up in his bedsheets.
From the first chords of the opening aria - played almost too languorously, dropping each note with aching restraint - Tharaud held his audience in thrall.
Unlike Glenn Gould's famous interpretation, which emphasised the work's unity and continuity, Tharaud's approach highlighted each variation's distinctiveness, while never losing the overall shape of the piece. Furthermore, Tharaud's vivid interpretation and unerring dramatic instinct ensured the work gripped like a vice. Thirty variations, each delivered with a startling freshness, at times playing almost fast and loose with Bach's score in the sheer bravura of live performance, were a thrilling ride.
The combination of Bach's brilliance, and Tharaud's sparkling confidence and supreme musicality, delivered moments of pomp, poignancy and pathos. Six encores and a standing ovation was testament to an evening of joy.