A performance of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” reveals almost as much about the performer as the twin arias and 30 variations reveal about the essence of Baroque music. The set offers a gold mine of interpretive possibilities for harpsichordists and pianists, and audiences have been as enthralled by dreamily introspective readings as they have by those that revel in its technical physicality.
Pianist Sam Post’s reading of the “Goldberg” at the Church of the Epiphany’s noonday concert Tuesday revealed a mind most comfortable with lucid structure and textural contrast but also, when the occasion called for it, a deeply felt romantic indulgence. His performance of the 15th variation, a quietly chromatic, beautifully inflected canon, was the high point of a well-thought-out, confidently played offering that reflected both technical muscle and emotional sensitivity.
He introduced the set with a lavishly ornamented but delicate opening aria and then began pumping out the first five variations in big, confident splashes. From there, however, he added lightness and detail to his arsenal. Passages that required hand-crossing, so much easier on a two-manual harpsichord than on a piano, moved smoothly. He dangled the wonderfully surprising harmonic twists of the 25th variation like tempting bait and arrived at the 30th variation, a lighthearted folk song, with a deserved note of triumph.
Post, a Yale graduate who has won honors as both a pianist and a physicist, teaches at Levine Music and fields a podcast, “The Music Post,” that explores the intersection of music, science and history.
In three weeks, the Church of the Epiphany will feature “Goldberg II,” an organ performance, this time by Brink Bush.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.