BACH Goldberg Variartions arr. for harp / Finch

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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Goldberg-Variationen
Goldberg Variations
(Arranged for harp)
Catrin Finch
Int. Release 06 Apr. 2009
1 CD / Download
0289 477 8165 3 CD DDD GH
UK version:
CD DDD GH
Catrin Finch, "Queen of Harps" (Classic FM), unveils the most exciting project of her remarkable career


. . . there's colour and drama aplenty . . .

The reverberating strings lend an atmospheric tint. This is Bach, not dinner music, but it's pretty lavish-sounding. Finch is most convincing in the faster passages, which she plays with plenty of sweep. Every third variation is heavy on swift-fingered arpeggios, and in these the instrument comes into its own.

. . . with this release, Catrin Finch surely establishes herself as one of the world's leading harpists . . . This is as impressive as any harp playing I've heard, and Finch's respectful attention to Bach's score is commendable. Deutsche Grammophon's recording is also perfectly tuned to pick up the instrument in an ideal acoustic setting . . . It is a skillful and well-executed transcription of one of music's keyboard masterpieces . . .

. . . was die walisische Herfenistin Catrin Finch hier vorstellt, ist absolute Kunst. Sie bringt es stellenweise sogar fertig, dass die Goldberg-Variationen auf der Harfe schöner, sensibler und meditativer klingen als auf dem Flügel oder dem Cembalo . . . Ihr Spiel zieht den Hörer sofort in seinen Bann und lässt ihn Bachs Musik quasi auf einer höheren Ebene erleben. Zudem wirkt Finchs Interpretation wie aus einem Guss, eine Variation erscheint, die nächste zu ergeben, Stimmungen werden somit nicht fallen gelassen, sondern weiterverarbeitet . . . Ohne Zweifel weist Catrin Finch mit ihrer göttlichen Harfe einen neuen Weg zu Bach.



    Catrin Finch plays the “Goldbergs"The harpist talks with Michael Church

    MC: How did the idea of turning the Goldberg Variations into a harp piece arise?
    CF: From a suggestion by my former manager, who knew I was on the lookout for new possibilities for the instrument. I immediately sensed it would be an interesting thing to attempt, though I wasn't sure that it would work.

    MC: How did you set about it?
    CF: The first thing I did was buy Glenn Gould's recordings of it, which were themselves a translation of the work into a different musical world. Then I bought some more recordings, and the music. I didn't analyse it first; I just sat down and started to play it, as I would any other piece. I had been a pianist and had played bits of it, and harp scores look like piano scores anyway, with two clefs, one for the left hand and one for the right, so it was essentially the same score. The main challenge was to adapt the fingering.

    MC: What was the first problem you hit?
    CF: Until Variation 5 it was straightforward. That one is very fast, with the left hand making big leaps, but when I worked it out slowly, it proved possible. Most of the problems were chromatic, to do with how the harp actually works. We have seven pedals, one for each note of the scale, and each has three slots, so the C pedal will control all the Cs on the instrument. The most difficult chromatic variation is the 25th, because Bach is asking for adjacent notes in a rapid row, and you have to make the pedal changes very fast, and sometimes you have to swap the hands. But whereas it's sometimes impossible to adapt contemporary music for the harp, with Bach it is possible. It took me a year to make the adaptation.

    MC: Are you satisfied with it?
    CF: Very satisfied indeed, although there is one variation - number 11 - which doesn't work as well as I would like it to. But it is such a nice feeling to have brought this huge project, the most difficult I've ever embarked on, to a successful end.

    MC: Why are you not entirely satisfied with Variation 11?
    CF: It's difficult to make it sound clean because your hands are so close together, and because, when you pluck a string on the harp and touch it again so soon, it makes a buzz. I tried putting the left hand down an octave, but that didn't sound right at all - the one thing I wanted to do is keep faith with the original. However, though some variations don't work as well as they do on the piano, others actually work better.

    MC: Which ones?
    CF: Variation 7, which is very beautiful, is perfect for the harp, because you can make it really ring. And the same is true of most of the slower variations - they bring out the best in the instrument. The ones in minor mode - 15, 21 and 25 - all work nicely because you can really use the instrument's character.

    MC: Wanda Landowska likened Variation 25 to a black pearl. How do you view it?
    CF: That one is incredible, quite sinister in a way. It's the one which stays most in the mind. Playing it, you almost forget to breathe.

    MC: How do you view the work's structure? Some players focus on its pattern of threes, with a toccata, an elegant character piece and a polyphonic canon coming round repeatedly.
    CF: I haven't approached it in an academic way - I've let it come naturally to me. But I do see three clear sections. I feel the first minor variation - no.15 - closes a section, and no.16 feels like a restart, going through to no.25. I always take the 26th - which comes in so joyfully - as the beginning of the end. After that point, it becomes progressively more uplifting.

    MC: Was the small size of the harp repertoire one of the triggers for this project?
    CF: Certainly. There's always been a lot of music composed by harpists - most of them French - especially since 1810, when Sébastien Erard invented the double-action pedal harp (allowing all three accidentals), the instrument which we still play today. But we have hardly anything until 1900 from composers who didn't play the harp themselves. Now, following the French moderns, notably Debussy, Ravel and Fauré, more and more composers are writing for it. But I dream of being able to play a Beethoven sonata, and more Mozart piano concertos. I've done an arrangement of an early Mozart concerto - K.414 in A major: it's quite lightly scored, so the harp can come through. I'd like to do more of those works.

    MC: In other words, you're retrospectively colonizing territory for your instrument.
    CF: Well, since the harp has been around since the beginning of time, I think that's appropriate. But I'm also doing it for my own pleasure - I've learned most of the harp repertoire, and my way forward is always to learn new pieces. Bach is one of my favourite composers, and the only way I can play more of him is by putting him onto my instrument.

    MC: Did you find it a challenge to replicate the colour palette Bach requires?
    CF: Not really. The harp is as capable of varying the colour as any other instrument.

    MC: What about the physical challenge?
    CF: The stamina required for a live performance is huge - bigger than with any other work I've played. It's an epic journey.

    MC: But in a circle.
    CF: Yes. I enjoy the aria at the end much more than I do the opening one. You've been through so much, gone through so many different guises - when you get to the simple aria again, it feels more special. You've done the journey and come back home.

    MC: What do you feel now, when you listen to your recording?
    CF: Really pleased. With this, as with any long-term, challenging project, there were moments of doubt, so it's a real pleasure to see - to hear -its fulfilment.

    MC: What are your hopes for its future?
    CF: That other people will play it. My hope is that it will come to occupy a respected place in the harp's core repertoire, as always happens to good arrangements. I hope it will be accepted by the doubters, by people who say they weren't expecting to enjoy it, but did.