News & Reviews

Südkurier No. 240, Tuesday 16 October 2012, p. 29

Bach in an impressive interpretation

Matthew Bengtson in top form. Exceptional agreement between artist and instrument.

TRIBERG (whg) Matthew Bengtson was one of the performers at the first chamber music festival organized by the La Gesse Foundation in 2007. This year he has decided upon a towering all-Bach program.

The program begins with the sounds of seven Preludes and their Fugues, in seven different keys, from the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier. From the very first measures, we understand that Bengtson sees the pieces not as exercises - “for the use of the studious musical youth,” as Bach himself introduced the work - but as music with which to entertain and enchant his audience. The Preludes and Fugues come with a slight swing and the faintest trace of forward momentum, as if they were not composed for a harpsichord but specifically for this grand piano - and Bengtson does not hesitate to make use of the pedals. Nor does he restrict himself to the harpsichord’s five octaves: repeatedly, he displays the full eight octaves of his Bösendorfer concert grand. Bach has strewn this music with cliffs to increase its difficulty, and Bengtson impresses with the ease and precision with which he navigates them.

The audience is unfortunately not as large as on the previous evening, but the second part of the recital offers the music lovers present a moment of true glory. Here, the extraordinarily versatile Bengtson - he considers Alexander Scriabin and Scymanowski [sic.] his musical favorites, has been interested in jazz improvisation for years, and studied math at Harvard - addresses the Goldberg Variations with a facility that is rarely achieved even in the canonic reference recordings. The opening Aria, played in moderate tempo but nevertheless with swing, immediately shows his great interest in this music and its interpretation. Variations 5 and 15, which even on the harpsichord are only playable with crossed hands, are presented with an astonishingly relaxed precision; the appoggiaturas in the fast minor-key variations sound like thrown-in “clusters.” His faultless playing, at tempi that are sometimes extreme, and with an exactness in his interpretation that is very rarely heard, make us forget that all this is also a major technical feat. The way he “changes manuals” - by repeatedly moving up an octave into the clear and soft treble of the Bösendorfer grand, or by interjecting doubled octaves in the bass - is marvelous.

At the conclusion of the “Aria da Capo Fine,” the listeners are so enthralled by they have just have heard that they finally burst into applause only when Matthew Bengtson finally rises from the piano. He feels, too, that it has been a very special kind of evening; and contrary to his usual custom, he plays more works by Johann Sebastian Bach as an encore.

Image of the original German article