Lucid Culture

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Parker Ramsay Reinvents Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the Harp

Among the brave and the few who have tackled solo Bach on the harp lately, Bridget Kibbey is joined by Parker Ramsay, who traded in playing the concert organ under Stephen Cleobury and now runs a blog, Harping On: Thoughts from a Recovering Organist. As if playing Bach on the organ isn’t difficult enough, Ramsay has transcribed the complete Goldberg Variations for the instrument he learned from his mom. The result is a revelation and is streaming at Spotify,

Ramsay has unimpeachable cred as a baroque musician. In November of 2016, he played a thoughtful, sensitively voiced program of works by Buxtehude, Sweelinck and Scheidt on the German-colored rear organ at New York’s St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.  What’s most artistically resonant here is that Ramsay isn’t doing this as an ostentatious side project. On one hand, his use of space builds rapturous ambience, bringing out resonant lows seldom heard front and center on this instrument. There’s plenty of natural reverb at the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, where this album was recorded, so there are places where ornamentation in the lowest registers actually gets lost sometimes – although that doesn’t affect the highs.

The best comparison to this new arrangement is the Goldberg Variations for organ, ironically enough. What works as long as you hold down the pedal with all stops out turns out to work just as well for this delicately incisive axe – although there are moments where it’s not always immediately recognizable as such. When Ramsay has his pedal down in places, it could be a harpsichord.

However, there’s plenty new that comes into view here, particularly the viigor of the counterpoint as Ramsay alternates between hands. You could say that this interpretation reduces the music to its most basic and lucid terms. Ramsay’s dynamics are lyrical, his tempos on the slow side. And he leaves room for flourishes most commonly associated with the harp.

There’s the occasional creepy music-box effect, eye-opening emphasis on basslines when they bubble toward the surface, and poignant pointillisms everywhere. If you’re one of the millions who have beens swept away by the Goldberg Variations over the years, this album will significantly deepen your appreciation of their beauty as well as the challenges they pose for those who play them.

September 18, 2020 - Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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