Canadian pianist David Jalbert is a risk-taker -- both in his personal and musical life. "I'm a tennis freak," he admitted in a telephone interview from his Ottawa home. "I recently got back from the U.S. Open."
Jalbert is an avid tennis player, even though his hands are his livelihood. "It is a hobby I've been told not to entertain since I was young."
Jalbert's penchant to take risks can also be heard in his recent recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. There are countless recordings of this challenging work, both on the harpsichord, for which it was originally composed, and on piano. Perhaps the most well-known are the two recordings (over 25 years apart) by Glenn Gould.
But Jalbert felt he could bring something new to the work, and audience members and critics agree. His 2012 Atma Classique CD was named Canadian Album of the Year by Musical Toronto. "I thought I would be eviscerated," said the 35-year-old Jalbert, "I thought, well, I'm a teacher now, so it's OK, but there hasn't been one bad review worldwide."
Jalbert will be performing "the Goldbergs" at the season opening concert of the Women's Musical Club on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium in the Winnipeg Art Gallery. He's played there before and as a chamber musician with his trio, Piano Forte, in the Virtuosi Concert series. Winnipeg audiences got a strong sense from these performances of just how special an artist Jalbert is -- his obviously innate musicianship; the enjoyment with which he played; the simplicity and clarity of his approach and a thoroughly pleasant demeanour toward the audience. Really, this is a musician who has it all.
Embarking on the challenge of recording Goldberg Variations was a life-changing decision.
"I still don't know how I plucked up the courage to tackle the Goldbergs," he said. "It comes with a certain amount of mental illness... For a full year I had it rolling around in my head. It was a gutsy move, in retrospect, but I'm pleased with the great results.
"When I was young, Bach was always in my corner. I have a somewhat classical take on the Goldbergs -- a certain elegance, chivalry in the phrases. One of the strengths of the recording has to do with the tradition of varying the repeats. I bring to it my own imagination. I feel strongly about the music. And I am very left-handed, which is always an advantage in fugues. There are lots of one-handed voicings in the Goldbergs."
He has performed the Goldberg Variations all over Canada and the United States and will do so in France in November. "The first time it was like torture -- memorizing it all -- there's nothing longer to play. You have to have concentration throughout such a long structure. But now it feels fun and natural to play."
In between performances, he holds down a recently tenured position as associate professor of piano at the University of Ottawa, where he has 13 performance students at the undergraduate and masters levels and runs the chamber music program. He enjoys his teaching.
"It brings me joy. It takes and gives energy. I definitely have enough to do in a week, but I enjoy the balance it brings." The sense of community was an enticement. "I liked seeing people, feeling involved in the world. I feel I have something to teach. I have less time to practise -- after a nine-to-five day I still have to put in four to five hours of practising -- but I am becoming more efficient."
His recording career continues to thrive, with a new CD just out of Rachmaninoff and Chopin cello sonatas with Canadian cellist Denise Djokic. He will be back in the studio with his trio in October recording Dvor°k Trios.
And in his small amount of spare time, there's always tennis and listening to music.
"I'm probably the biggest Bob Dylan fan whoever played the Goldbergs," he said.