Reviewed by George B. Parous
Saturday night, at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, one man, playing a single instrument, held a large crowd mesmerized for the better part of ninety minutes. When he had finished, Arthur Haas, the gifted musician, received a rousing ovation and had to return to the harpsichord several times to bow his acknowledgment of the resounding applause.
Mr. Haas’ tour de force performance was the second concert of Chatham Baroque’s 2021-22 calendar of events, and unfortunately was a “one-night only” event. Haas is very much in demand as a performer – and professor – of Baroque music today, as he has been for a number of years. A faculty member of Stony Brook University and the Yale School of Music, he still finds time for summer workshops and festivals featuring harpsichord and early music, and the occasional performance such as Saturday night’s.
Volumes have been written on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” first published in 1741 as an “Aria with diverse variations for the harpsichord with two manuals for the delight and entertainment of music lovers.” No detailed attempt at describing their colorful complexity will be made here, but in what was the fourth and final volume of his Clavier-Übung (“keyboard practice”), Bach’s “Variations” created music that went far beyond tedious practice drills. He created, indeed, music that is as delightful as it is entertaining.
The work presents great challenges to a performer, both mental and physical. A mastery of “cross-hand” technique – one hand on the bass keys, the other on the treble – is necessary, as Bach requires this in some of the variations to such an extent that his sense of humor can be detected. Tremendous virtuosity is necessary to negotiate passages where runs of 16th and 32nd notes dazzle not only by their difficulty, but also by the profound beauty of the music they create. Mr. Haas played all these with what seemed like the greatest of ease.
The harpsichord used for the performance looked like a display piece from a French museum. It actually is a copy of a period piece built by William Elder in 1990. It was given to The Church of the Redeemer in 2018 in memory of Michael D. Price.
Chatham Baroque’s second concert of the season was, in all respects, a great success. This unique performing ensemble brings to audiences rare opportunities to experience music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, and Early Classical periods.
For information about upcoming concerts, tickets and more, visit Chatham Baroque & Renaissance Baroque.
Many thanks to all concerned for allowing us to be part of a truly outstanding musical event.