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Mentored by Alfred Brendel, polymath British-Korean Kit Armstrong gives an intriguing programme that includes musical background to Bach’s masterpiece. If only C Major’s booklet notes were more expansive.

Armstrong has a luminous tone and the ability to project lines with the utmost clarity. There appears to be a deep resonance, too, between Armstrong and the offerings by Byrd, Sweelinck and Bull. When Byrd’s Hugh Ashton’s Ground, as in the Bach, returns to its theme at its close, our experience of that theme is transformed. The Sweelinck pieces, both sets of variations, combine linear cleanliness with an implied religiosity bordering on severity (a severity that returns in the Ouverture midway through the Goldbergs). Armstrong has the ability to reduce his sound to the merest whisper while retaining projection; intellect is completely in the service of the music. Small wonder Brendel took him as a rare pupil (the film Set the Piano Stool on Fire tracks their relationship).

The fluency of Bull’s 30 Walsingham Variations is as remarkable as Armstrong’s grasp of this music’s stately nature. All of which provides the perfect setting for the Goldbergs. The Aria unfolds absolutely naturally, while the immediately following music reveals Armstrong’s rock-solid rhythm. Armstrong’s mastery of tone, his ability to project the most tender expression and his long-range vision contribute to a stunning performance. Armstrong’s technique is impeccable, entirely devoted to Bach’s magnificent edifice.

Armstrong’s style in this music stands at the opposite pole to the Ashkenazy reviewed above: the discomfort of the latter replaced by the radiance and omniscience of the former. Both DVD and Blu-ray capture Armstrong’s Steinway in superb sound; camera work is generally non-interventionist.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing