Review / Kohout creates a vast canvass of colour and life

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IT’S not often you get to hear a live performance of J S Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”.  This one, by Czech organist and pianist, Pavel Kohout, on his 8th visit to Canberra, was brilliant. 

Pavel Kohout

Playing the piano, Kohout gave a free and open interpretation of Bach’s famous aria and 30 variations. Bach wrote the piece in 1741 for his student, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg and it pretty much set the benchmark for works of this nature.

Considering the score carries virtually no guidance as to tempo or expression, it leaves the artist free to interpret. Kohout gave the work very thoughtful, almost romantic period treatment, playing with assuredness, and delivering warm sensitivity and lyricism. Choosing which repeats to play, Kahout decorated the score with tasteful ornamentations of extended trills, judicious pauses, and tempo variations.

The second half featured Wesley’s pipe organ. TV screens gave the audience full view of the action on the three keyboards and pedalboard.

It started with two quite contrasting works from “Twelve Pieces for Organ”, written in 1889 by Frenchman, Théodore Dubois. Kohout’s dexterity came to the fore in the bright and fast-moving Toccata, which even had brief quotes from Charles-Marie Widor’s famous Toccata from the Fifth Organ Symphony written ten years earlier. The second was a quiet, reflective “In Paradisum”, featuring some well-chosen stop combinations and sensitive playing across all three keyboards and pedals.

Next was a piece by little-known composer, Hermann Gabriel Kummer; a set of variations based on Paganini’s famous, but diabolically difficult, Caprice No 24 for solo violin. Written for solo pedal, this piece literally was hands-free. It requires great virtuosity, if not dexterity, and Kohout delivered brilliantly with feet dancing across the board and even playing multiple notes with each foot. It was a masterclass on excellent pedal technique.

Closing the program was the Toccata from Widor’s 2nd Organ Symphony. Like the famous fifth, this was an exciting, exhilarating piece with lots of light and shade and Kohout’s feet racing across the pedalboard and hands flying across all three keyboards. He drew many contrasts in sounds and volumes, creating a vast canvass of colour and life.

It was a fitting conclusion to a very fine concert.

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