Barry Douglas (piano)


Ill Tempered Klavier - Stephen Gardner

5 Preludes & Fugues from Op 87 - Shostakovich

Goldberg Variations - Bach

The music Network's last tour of 2000 is built around the music of Bach: the Goldberg Variations set in the context of Bach-inspired works by Shostakovich and Stephen Gardner.

Gardner's new Ill Tem- pered Klavier was specially commissioned for pianist Barry Douglas's eight-concert tour, which opened at An Grianan in Letterkenny on Thursday. Gardner is, by his own admission, in awe of Bach. But that wouldn't lead anyone who knows the Belfast composer's musical temperament to expect his twist on Bach to be what you might call respectful.

His latest piece takes a little chip out of the Goldbergs and runs it at speed, in an irregular metre, in an angular, dissonant style somewhere between early jazz piano and the moto perpetuo finale of Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata.

Barry Douglas delivered it with patrician poise, rather more calmly, I suspect, and certainly a lot slower than the composer expected. On a first hearing, for all the careful shaping involved, it felt as if a little more abandon would have brought the performance closer to the spirit of the piece. The sense of the mechanical in the playing was even stronger in the Goldberg Variations themselves. The approach seemed hasty, concentrating on counterpoint as a calculated exercise in pianistic balancing and layering rather than on the sympathetic unfolding of one of the most astonishingly rich of all musical creations.

Douglas keeps his distance, too, from the Shostakovich of the Preludes and Fugues. But here he fires himself up periodically, growling or attacking like a politician at a rally who knows where he can safely score a winning point. It's not the deepest of approaches to Shostakovich. But, by contrast with the Bach, it works.

Barry Douglas plays in Clifden tomorrow, in Limerick on Wednesday, in Kilkenny next Friday and in Tralee on Wednesday, December 13th.