Bach's Goldberg Variations are not to be approached lightly either by performer (hardly!) or audience. Their 75 minutes constitute a cornucopia of intellect, stylistic variety and virtuosity (both keyboard and compositional) which turns every performance almost into a sacrament.
And that was certainly the case for this Summer Festival at St Laurence event, the evening sun streaming into Ludlow's magnificent Parish Church as Charles Owen settled into a reading which was as remarkable for its wit and character as for its sheer command over these squillions of notes.
Certainly there were a few fingerslips here and there, but these are almost inevitable when performing the piece on a grand piano instead of the two-manual harpsichord Bach specified; plenty of spectacular cross-hand display, and also some intimate hugger-mugging between the hands restricted to one keyboard.
Owen added his own value to Bach's awesome architecture, running some movements together in a totally natural and convincing way. As the end of these 30 variations approached he seemed to tie up every end with a convincing inevitability, clearing the anguished clouds which tortured variation 25 with a subsequent display of joyous keyboard wizardry through subsequent variations before bringing us up short with a sturdy, no-nonsense Quodlibet of popular tunes of the time.
His postlude-like recapitulation of the opening Air, now shorn of some of its florid ornamentation, was poignant in its simplicity. Had all these wonders really come from this?