Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (arr. harp)
Parker Ramsay (harp)
King’s College KGS0049 78:29 mins
Conceived as a way of marrying – in harpist Parker Ramsay’s words – the ‘raw pluckiness’ of the harpsichord with the ‘expressive range of the piano’, his new transcription of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for modern pedal harp is the latest in a not inconsiderable line of transcriptions of the piece for that instrument. The venture has its steep technical challenges, both in the working out and the playing, but Bach, who was very catholic in his approach to transcription, would not have batted an eyelid.
Ramsay sidesteps these challenges, and the lovely if echoic acoustic of King’s College Chapel – which gives the harp a sometimes overwhelming shimmering acoustic ripple – by playing subtly with tempos and dynamics, effecting what must be some very nifty footwork on the pedals, as well as finger-twisting work on the strings. None of this effort comes across in the nuanced, insightful playing.
In the end, it comes down to ear. The flow of the harp, its propensity for flourish, occasionally makes its statement, as if breaking free, aided by the fulsome Kings’ acoustic, such as in Variation 16, or the joy of Variation 29 – and sometimes it very slightly obscures the detail. But elsewhere it is clarified, heightened, whether in the Quodlibet, Variation 30, which sings with understated simplicity or in the essence of introspection which pervades the Variations as they progress, not least in Variation 25 in which Ramsay conveys a wonderful intimacy.
Sarah Urwin Jones