News & Reviews

Schwarzwälder Bote no. 240, Tuesday 16 October 2012

Audience completely enraptured at Bach concert

Matthew Bengtson, playing from memory, turns the second evening of “La Gesse” into sheer listening pleasure

by Siegfried Kouba

TRIBERG -- The program for the second evening concert in the Lazarus von Schwendl Hall consisted exclusively of works by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was a difficult program that nevertheless won many friends, and Matthew Bengtson turned the performance into a feast for the ears.

This rather young pianist played by heart - a remarkable feat of memory that was combined with a stupendous gift of interpretation. He was utterly focused, and so engaged that he sang along with the music. The program opened with a selection of pieces from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that stands as a paradigm of its composer’s inventiveness. Bach’s heirs were well-acquainted with this work: Mozart was guided by it (KV 564), Beethoven was inspired by it, and Gounod’s “Ave Maria” famously elaborates upon the main theme. For conductor Hans von Bülow, the Well-Tempered Clavier, an encyclopedia of “Preludes and Fugues in all keys and semitones” was the “Old Testament”; Beethoven declared, of Eisenach’s son, that “he should not be called Bach [brook] but Meer [sea].”

Bengtson presented an easily comprehensible sequence: a varied stroll through scales, ornaments, canonical variations, and “equal temperament.” The Präludium of the “Aria,” in fugato style, rang out clearly; the Sinfonia and Concerto were vividly rendered, and the dance fugues displayed a special liveliness. The rendering of the “Präludium patheticum” was particularly distinct. The occasionally “swinging” effect made a visible impression on the audience.

With the “Goldberg Variations,” which have also been called the “musical sleeping pills of an insomniac,” the virtuosic artist raised a monument for himself. Only some slight surface unevenness occurred, however without diminishing the excellent overall impression. Here, too, performance from memory will exact its toll from a performer. The legendary origins of this commissioned work, an “Aria with diverse variations,” are well-known. Bach wrote them “to entertain the souls of music-lovers.” Nestled between the Arias the 30 variations are heard - they differ in the treatment of their bass and harmonies. After the 15th variation a change of form occurs, which is introduced by an Ouverture in the French style. Which variation deserved to be crowned as the best was a matter to be decided by each listener. Bach’s consistency proved his compositional maturity, a consistency borne up by the work’s fixed architecture and symmetry.

Allowing himself only very short respites, Matthew Bengtson gave shape to the entire demanding work - whose finale is written as an amusing quodlibet - in just 55 minutes. The commissioner of the work, Hermann Carl von Keyserling, surely would have slept well after hearing “his” variations, which, it is said, his house harpsichordist, Goldberg, had to repeat many times to lull him to slumber. Bengtson’s audience was certainly enraptured, and demanded more with their applause.

Bengtson seemed moved by the evening too, and despite having played such a demanding official program, he also presented some encores of Preludes and Fugues.

Picture caption: Matthew Bengtson (photo), an outstanding pianist, was heard in the La Gesse concert series. His interpretations of works by Bach were very well received by the audience.

Image of the original German article