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ISSUE 119 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 9/30/2005

Consistent variations

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, September 30, 2005

Showing a perfect blend of technical and lyrical mastery, Professor of music Kathryn Ananda-Owens performed J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations to a large crowd in Urness on Sunday. The Goldberg Variations, which consist of an Aria and 30 variations on its theme, pose a formidable challenge to pianists, due to the rapid runs, challenging cross-handed sequences, and the endurance required to perform the work.

Mastering the technical aspects of the Goldberg Variations is one thing, but playing them musically is another. Ananda-Owens succeeded on both accounts.

Ananda-Owens took the stage and immediately captured the audience with the graceful melodies of the Aria, a piece that requires legato, sustained playing without making the piece drag or slow down. Ananda-Owens succeeded admirably, holding the audience in awe until the final notes faded away.

Once she had established the Aria's melody, Ananda-Owens began the variations on the theme. Successfully performing one Bach piece proves to be a daunting enough task to many pianists, much less the 30 variations that Ananda-Owens mastered.

Each of the variations had a character of its own, from the rapid, staccato, cross-handed sequences in Variations 4 and 26 to the floating, haunting melodies in Variations 21 and 25.

Ananda-Owens successfully executed the hand-crossings and kept the melodic lines smooth, a feat that few pianists can accomplish. Not only did she masterfully perform the difficult passages, but she did so with a natural ease and confidence.

When the last note of the Goldberg Variations faded away, the audience suspended their applause and allowed a silence to settle before allowing cheers to fill Urness.

Perfecting Bach's Goldberg Variations has been a year-and-a-half long project for Ananda-Owens, who began reading through possible recital repertoire during her sabbatical in the spring of 2004.

"I kept coming back to [the Goldberg Variations]," Ananda-Owens said.

She explained how one of the big challenges with the Goldberg Variations is its length, which is between 45 and 50 minutes, depending on the pianist.

"It is very different from playing sonatas and nocturnes," Ananda-Owens said, noting how, when playing separate pieces, the pianist has time to leave the stage between songs. With the Goldberg Variations, however, the pianist plays the Aria and all 30 variations without a break, a feat of technical ability as well as physical and mental endurance.

Ananda-Owens likened performing the Goldberg Variations to running a marathon.

"It is an incredibly gratifying piece to perform," she said. "The mental game is just as important as the physical game."

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