Christopher Taylor and the Steinway double-manual piano (photo by Jeff Miller)
The instrument has a few noteworthy quirks that Taylor explained, in a slightly dry, off-the-cuff presentation. Both keyboards are linked to the same sound board and set of strings, with the upper one striking the strings an octave higher than the lower one. The white and black keys of the lower keyboard extend together, at a single level, until they continue under the upper keyboard, making a fully chromatic glissando possible in that area between the manuals. A fourth pedal can couple the two keyboards together, making instant octaves possible by playing only single notes (or doubled octaves, by playing octaves). The most important effect the instrument has on playing the Goldberg Variations is in the several movements Bach designed especially for the two-manual harpsichord he had in mind. As if to make the point, Taylor took most of those double-manual movements (5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, and 28), which on normal pianos require a delicate sleight of hand to manage the hand-crossing effects, as fast as possible. The visual arc of the two hands, split apart as on a double-manual harpsichord, helped the ear to understand what Bach was doing with the interaction of the two hands.
While Taylor did well highlighting the instrument's strengths, this was not a particularly strong performance technically or musically. Taylor had memory slips, an all-out blank in the third variation that required him to start again, as well as less noticeable ones in 20, 27, and 28. In general, Taylor sacrificed technical polish for unusual tempo or attacks, an interpretation that was more a series of quirky character pieces than a large architectural form. He made no real attempt to keep his tempo choices in proportion to one another, and although he took most of the repeats, he added very few embellishments.
Anne Midgette, Pianist Varies His Style on Bach's Goldberg Variations (Washington Post, October 16)
Christopher Taylor will be back in the area later this month, for a free recital at the Baltimore Museum of Art (October 24, 3 pm), sponsored by Shriver Hall. The program examines the variation form, pairing Derek Bermel's Turning and Frederic Rzewski's fiendish set of variations The People United Will Never Be Defeated! with Beethoven's op. 34 variations.