Concert of extraordinary brilliance

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Dan Tepfer amid his astonishing performance in Canberra. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / CIMF, Concert 20 – “J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations BWV 988”, Dan Tepfer, piano. At Fitters’ Workshop, Kingston, May 11. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

BACH maybe the most transcribed composer in history. And, if you are an award-winning pianist and composer and have a degree in astrophysics, you may be tempted to improvise Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” because you can, Dan Tepfer has done just that.

Pianist Dan Tepfer.

Alongside playing all 30 of JS Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” BWV 988, the New York City-based Dan Tepfer played his own improvised variations. Jazz is Tempfer’s thing and he is not just good at it, he lives and breathes it. He swings at the piano and he sings to himself as well, not dissimilar to the great Glenn Gould.

This totally unique performance of Bach and a 100 per cent improvisation of his “Goldberg Variations” was distinctive on so many levels. To begin with, when playing the Bach on the Steinway grand, Tepfer’s pedaling was almost non-existent, as it should be. So many pianists apply the sustain pedal to Bach’s keyboard music. However, when playing his improvisations, for the most, Tepfer never touched the pedal, moving his right foot back to discourage him from using it.

Tepfer played everything from memory and improvisation. Sixty pieces for 100 minutes non-stop. What a feat. In this musician and composer lies the ghost of Glenn Gould.

At times, it was a little hard to hear where the Bach left off and Tepfer began, but his own works soon showed through. His technique was something this reviewer has never seen. Not only did he play crossed hands a lot but also across fingers, and what looked like playing in between his fingers; it was mesmerising watching his hands.

Not only was this concert an example of piano mastery, but it was also a lesson in music composition. His improvisations showed how music is born. Tepfer’s facial expressions, body movements, and singing of notes are a concert photographer’s dream. There are few more animated players than Tepfer.

If there was an issue with the performance, it was that the separation between the Bach and the improvisation was not long enough. But this is coming from a listener, not a creator in the moment.

This is the first concert that this reviewer can remember a pianist not using the sustain pedal. A pianist not applying the sustain pedal liberally is like a singer or string player not using vibrato.

The audience seemed to be stunned by this performance. When a solitary cough was heard it startled people. To say that this was a concert of extraordinary brilliance is to understate it. In this one-person show, every piece, either Bach or Tepfer was fresh, innovative and played with an insight few people own and can clearly relate to an audience. What a concert. What a performance.

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