Pianist Peter Serkin Plays Mozart, Bach’s Goldbergs

The distinguished musician Peter Serkin has been in close communion with an extraordinarily wide range of serious music for his entire life. Born into a family already two generations deep in virtuosos, he famously took a sabbatical from performance in the late 1960s, only to return to the public eye after a pivotal conversion experience upon hearing the music of J. S. Bach. It was Bach that formed the balance of this outstanding recital — the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, one of the towering peaks of the keyboard repertoire. Serkin has recorded it four times.

On Saturday, he prefaced the Goldbergs with a pair of less well known pieces by Mozart, the Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, and the Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570. He explored each work deliberately, patiently building the pieces phrase by phrase so that their inner structures were laid bare. Submerged angularities and rhythmic anomalies floated to the surface and dissolved in divine Mozartian consonance.

The Goldberg Variations are the pianists version of the Torah, about which a wise rabbi once said, “turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it.” Serkin’s precision, his restraint, and his utter submission to the task at hand all contributed to a transcendent reading in which the music at times seemed to point to something beyond. Perhaps the most striking aspect of his technique is the exquisite rapport he maintains between left and right hands. Together, they brought forth something greater than the sum of their parts, and pointed towards a resolution bigger than any two hands could hold.

Update: An erroneous subtitle was removed from this story.