Yesterday I played a Handel Suite that includes a set of variations, one of the more musically virtuosic set that I know of, by which I mean that it is rife with invitations to improvise timing and texture over the rather square theme, and all those invitations are revealed strictly through compositional devices--note values, textural shifts, etc. In other words, a considerable level of musical experience is required in order to discover them. One of the listeners really hated it: he found it tedious. And here I was, delighting in almost over the top freedom.
Whatever the experience, whether positive or negative, it certainly was not in the background!