Kit Armstrong gives a ‘pearly’ performance of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations

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WORKS: Goldberg Variations; plus Bull: Walsingham; Byrd: Hughe Ashton’s Ground; Sweelinck: Mein junges Leben hat ein End – variations; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (DVD)
PERFORMER: Kit Armstrong (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C Major DVD: 741608; Blu-ray: 741704


American-born Wunderkind Kit Armstrong – mathematician, linguist, juggler, origamist, composer, pianist, to name but a few of his talents – is without doubt one of the most prodigiously gifted polymaths of our day. This thoughtfully planned recital, given last year, before a rapt and silent audience at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, sets Bach’s Goldbergs in the context of the keyboard school that preceded it. Armstrong reveals a subtle web of connections between Bach, the Dutch organist Jan Sweelinck and the English Virginalists John Bull and William Byrd. He takes a concert pianist’s approach to the Sweelinck, revelling in his virtuosic writing and giving the rhythms an almost jazzy swing. In the two English works, he shapes and tapers phrases with all the expressive devices and dynamic shades of the modern piano but, even in the spacious acoustic of the Concertgebouw, lines are cleanly etched, never blurred with the sustaining pedal.

Though these pieces are far from mere curtain raisers, the main focus of the programme is JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which Armstrong reads with assurance, refinement and a maturity beyond his years. His sound is pearly, highlighting the work’s lyricism, and tempos are beautifully judged for the hall’s ample space – never too fast, nor too showy. Here, too, the young pianist relishes syncopations and dancing rhythms, picking out playful details and figurations with impish delight. Above all, though, he builds the music’s architecture with a profoundly logical understanding of its rational, mathematical structure. The DVD production is in good taste, thankfully lacking video gimmickry.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti


Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.