Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Sitkovetsky)

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Bach
WORKS: Goldberg Variations (arr. Sitkovetsky)
PERFORMER: Julian Rachlin (violin), Nobuko Imai (viola), Mischa Maisky (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6378
It’s impossible to object in principle to arrangements of Bach’s music, given that he was such an inveterate arranger himself, but I do have a problem with this version of the Goldberg Variations. It’s paradoxically that the homogeneity of the string trio allows for less contrast of colour, timbre and articulation than the original harpsichord. Or the piano: Sitkovetsky made this arrangement in Bach’s bicentenary year of 1985, partly as a tribute to Glenn Gould, whose 1955 recording is a famous act of musical recreation.

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There isn’t the same sense of discovery here, although the three players are expert, and clearly enjoying themselves, with generous recorded sound to match. The faster variations come off best, particularly the canonic ones, where the separate contrapuntal lines are played with some vigour in the phrasing. And, as most of these variations are written in three parts, the ensemble doesn’t sound overstretched – that itself means that something is lost from the sense of striving that comes with a single keyboard player. In the more sustained music, Rachlin’s overdone rubato and vibrato, reduce the understated passion to the musical equivalent of scenes from a sentimental romantic novel. Ultimately, this is Bach reduced to easy listening. Martin Cotton