JS Bach

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Quartz
ALBUM TITLE: Goldberg Variations (arr. Eshpai)
PERFORMER: Homecoming Woodwind Ensemble: Dmitri Bulgakov, Pavel Strugalev (oboe), Claudia Hellbach (cor anglais),
Uwe Rebers (bassoon)

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CATALOGUE NO: QTZ 2051
Transcription and paraphrase of JS Bach’s music is by now a long and honourable tradition, to which this unusual version of the Goldberg Variations becomes the latest footnote. At the request of oboist Dmitri Bulgakov, veteran Russian composer Andrei Eshpai transcribed the Goldbergs in 2005 not for the conventional woodwind quartet of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, but for a double-reed quartet of two oboes, cor anglais and bassoon: four instruments that gave a unified sonority and texture while encompassing the entire pitch-range of the original harpsichord score. So what we have here is an exact, reverential note-for-note transcription: which fact in itself sets the players real challenges in articulating the manifold flourishes and ornaments with which Bach surrounds his theme.

It is superbly played by its original performers, in a lively and sympathetic acoustic, and there is much to admire in the artistry of these four players. But – though some sections (such as Variation 25) do gain an added plangency – I didn’t feel that anything startling was achieved through putting the music into this new dress. Granted that it’s a useful addition to the woodwind repertoire, it’s difficult to see who its intended audience might be.

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Calum MacDonald