COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Goldberg Variations (arr. Sitkovetsky)
PERFORMER: Britten Sinfonia/Thomas Gould
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 807633 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Dedicated to Glenn Gould, Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s 1985 transcription of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was written first for string trio then expanded for string orchestra. So bold are Glenn Gould’s fingerprints on the score, not just in the intricate decorations but also the colours, the phrasing, the idiosyncratic articulation, that it is more an arrangement of his interpretation than it is an arrangement of the work itself. Directed from the violin by Thomas Gould, the Britten Sinfonia navigates the transcription with considerable panache.
Thomas Gould’s recent solo album, Bach to Parker (reviewed p136), opens with a luminous reading of the D minor Chaconne, while the Britten Sinfonia’s 2014 St John Passion project demonstrated that fresh and thrilling Bach is not restricted to period instruments. Together they do much to restore a voice (Bach’s) that has otherwise been lost in translation. Sitkovetsky’s arrangement, sometimes scored for single strings, sometimes written in high-gloss tutti, is not evenly successful. While the aria sings sweetly and timelessly, and the intimate scoring of the fifth, seventh, ninth, 15th, 18th and 21st variations is beautifully immediate, the concerto-like treatment of the 14th, 20th and 26th variations sounds as ersatz as the Ski Sunday theme tune. There is more TV soundtrack orchestration in the pizzicato effects of the 19th and 28th variations. A stylish performance of a curiously dated work. But why not record Bach instead?