BACH Goldberg-Variationen Arr. Maisky

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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Goldberg-Variationen
Goldberg Variations BWV 988
(Transkription für Streichtrio
Arranged for String Trio)
Julian Rachlin, violin
Nobuko Imai, viola
Mischa Maisky, violoncello
Int. Release 02 Jan. 2007
1 CD / Download
CD DDD 0289 477 6378 9 GH
Renowned cellist Mischa Maisky records Bach’s beloved Goldberg Variations arranged for string trio


What are these string players doing with one of the summits of keyboard composition? Something extraordinary. The Conductor Dmitri Sitkovetsky arranged it for strings 20 years ago; here, at last, is a recording that does it justice, full of dramatic changes of tempo and colour, but with its magnificent architecture intact.

Rachlin, Imai and Maisky form a close-knit team . . . it¿s an appealing exercise.

The faster variations come off best, particularly the canonic ones, where the separate contrapuntal lines are played with some vigour in the phrasing.

Of all trios who've tackled this opus on disc, DG's all-star crew outclass the others insofar as technical proficiency . . . Not one smudged, swallowed nor rhythmically unfocused note infiltrates the rapid, clearly delineated passagework in Vars 5, 14, 2, 23 and 29. Conversely, the musicians' delicacy and pinpointed control in the minor-key variations never allows the harmonic tension to slacken . . . Maisky reveals a deft and thoughtful ensemble sensibility different from his larger-than-life solo persona. Nobuko Imai's rich, penetrating viola timbre proves an anchoring influence and her supple, perfectly in-tune high-register work particularly impresses in Var 17, where the violin sits out. Virtually all repeats are observed in this excellently engineered release.

The use of strings does, of course, open up the possibility of a wide dynamic range, though these three outstanding musicians use it with discretion. There is a sense of daring throughout the performance. Tempos are heavily contrasted in mood from serenity to feverish activity and nowhere is this more evident than in variations nos. 20-22, where brilliantly realised syncopations move to a glowing meditative canon, and on to the tranquillity of a four-part movement. Equally enjoyable is the gentle lilt the players bring to the dancing measures of many variations and the lute-like use of pizzicato. Nothing in the staccato quality of the keyboard instruments from Bach's era can equal the long sustaining bass line so splendidly created by Mischa Maisky's cello, though all three players refrain from excessive use of vibrato and have kept the basic sound quite dry. An I have never experienced such a wistful account of the final 'Aria da capo'. The recorded sound is close and perfectly weighted between the instruments.

. . . you shouldn't miss Rachlin, Imai, and Maisky's consistently compelling, tonally vibrant reading . . . Recommended!

All three performers are in untamed form here, and that seems just fine for Bach, whose contrapuntal strands have rarely seemed so fearlessly independent. Nearly every variation becomes an act of compositional brinkmanship, with three instruments almost irritably trying to run away from one another and very nearly succeeding, which is thoroughly exciting.

Bach wrote his immortal Goldberg Variations for solo keyboard, not string trio. But Dmitry Sitkovetsky¿s arrangement, heard on a Deutsche Grammophon disk, unpacks the work¿s intricate network of counterpoint, an exercise at once informative and luxurious. The performance -- by the violinist Julian Rachlin, the violist Nobuko Imai, and the cellist Mischa Maisky -- is both aristocratic and impassioned.

Sitkovetsky¿s arrangement . . . unpacks the work¿s intricate network of counterpoint, an exercise at once informative and luxurious . . . The performance is both aristocratic and impassioned.

Bach¿s Goldberg Variations, like so many other of the master¿s works, proves remarkably adaptable for a string trio. Purists may balk at such arrangements, but Bach himself was an avid arranger of other composer¿s works, often shedding new light on them with his transfer to a different medium. That¿s what happens in Dmitri Sitkovetsky¿s arrangement of the Goldbergs for string trio, an ensemble that can -- and does, in this performance -- bring a greater tonal variety and expressiveness to the work than is available to the harpsichord. The trio members here are noted soloists in their own right, but play together beautifully as an ensemble. Rachlin¿s sweet-toned violin adds flavor, Imai¿s dusky viola projects inner lines with authority, and Maisky tones down his huge cello sound to provide a fitting foundation to the ensemble. Their light-hearted Variation 8, a Gigue, is aptly playful; Variation 21 gets a soulful performance, Variation 24 offers blistering virtuosity, while they demonstrate gentle sweetness and warmth in the Adagio, Variation 25. The music is marvelous, the playing superb, and the sonics are lifelike. This one should not be missed.

Bach's "Goldberg Variations" . . . came up with compelling expression in Dmitri Sitkovetsky's arrangement for string trio and in a reading of dedication, sensitivity, and rapport.

The present version . . . results in one of the most appealing transcription performances to have come across my path in some time. The balance between the three instruments is ideal and the recording acoustic suitably chamberish . . . this rendition is in fact replete with unfailingly tasteful variations in dynamics and articulation that sustain interest . . . to the extent that I was genuinely sorry when the performance ended.

Mischa Maisky gilt als einer der profiliertesten und renommiertesten Cellisten unserer Zeit. Und zwar vollkommen zu Recht. Wie er nicht bloß virtuos mit den Saiten seines Instruments umzugehen vermag, sondern auch sonst als herausragende Künstlerpersönlichkeit in Erscheinung tritt: Der gebürtige Lette ist ein ebenso offener wie neugieriger Weltbürger, ein begnadeter Entertainer und humorvoller Geschichtenerzähler ¿ und nicht zuletzt ein ausgesprochen kluger und reflektierter Interpret, der sehr bewusst seinen ganz eigenen Weg eingeschlagen hat . . . Transparenz entsteht hier durch eine expressive Gestaltung der einzelnen Linien, die stets ungemein klangschön ausgesungen und geatmet sind. Mit ihrer reich differenzierten und dynamisch fein abgestuften Farbpalette sowie sehr prägnant geformten Charakterunterschieden der einzelnen Variationen gelingt den Interpreten eine mitreißende Darbietung zwischen innigster Expressivität und packend virtuoser Musizierlust.

Die Solisten Julian Rachlin, Nobuko Imai und Mischa Maisky geben ihnen einen eigenständigen romantischen Biss.

Das hochelaborierte Gewebe der Stimmen wird durch die gesangliche Ausformulierung der einzelnen Linien transparent gemacht. die nuancierte Dynamik und die prägnante Expressivität tragen bei zur spannenden Lesart, die jede der einzelnen Variation in einem andern überraschenden Licht erschienen lassen: Musikgenuss pur!

. . . Eine Einebnung des erhabenen Goldbergs findet nicht statt, und der Reichtum seines musikalischen Gesteins verkraftet die Besetzung für Streichtrio locker. Rachlin, Imai und Maisky geben Bachs komplexer Faktur Raum und öffnen damit auch sanft emotionale Nebengemächer. Ein Goldberg für romantisch gestimmte Gemüter.

. . . Dmitri Sitkovetzkys . . . Streichtrio-Bearbeitung der "Goldberg-Variationen" [hat sich] mehr oder weniger fest im Konzertrepertoire etablieren können. Dies . . . ist ebenso sehr der besonderen Qualität der Bearbeitung zuzuschreiben, die die polyphone Faktur des Originals durch klangfarbliche Stimmendifferenzierung in neuem Licht erscheinen lässt und überdies dankbare Möglichkeiten zur Entfaltung instrumentaler Kantabilität bietet. Dieses Potenzial loten Julian Rachlin, Nobuko Imai und Mischa Maisky . . . auf der vorliegenden Aufnahme mit . . . grosser Spielfreude und technischer Souveränität aus . . . Dabei spitzen die drei Solisten die Ausdruckscharaktere und Tempogegensätze markant zu und beziehen die heftige, geräuschhafte Attacke ebenso in ihr Spiel mit ein wie das fahle Senza-Vibrato-Spiel . . . für Hörer, die das Neue im Altbekannten suchen, beginnt . . . eine spannende Entdeckungsreise, die dem Bachschen Klavierwerk immer wieder überraschende Facetten abgewinnt.

Die Aufnahme der "Goldberg-Variationen" zeigt seinen Ausnahmerang. Er zählt zu den ganz Grossen seiner Generation, der lettische Meistercellist Mischa Maisky . . . Seit rund 25 Jahren bei der Deutschen Grammophon unter Vertrag, hat Maisky beim renommierten Label einige Referenzaufnahmen vorgelegt. Da sind etwa Schostakowitschs Cellokonzerte mit dem London Symphony Orchestra unter Michael Tilson-Thomas, Dvoráks Cellokonzert mit den Berliner Philharmonikern (Zubin Mehta), Bachs sechs Solosuiten (neu als DVD erhältlich) oder Brahms¿ g-Moll-Klavierquartett op. 25 mit Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet und Martha Argerich . . . Eine besonders bemerkenswerte Produktion realisierte Maisky -- gemeinsam mit Nobuko Imai und Julian Rachlin -- zuletzt mit Bachs "Goldberg-Variationen" in einer Transkription für Streichtrio von Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Die so klavieristische wie komplexe Musik entfaltet hier in der Neuverteilung der Stimmen eine ungemeine Vielfalt an plastischen und somit schlüssigen Konturen . . . man [kann] nicht mehr davon lassen: Dass sich die Tanzsätze und Kanons unter den Variationen im Streichtrio mehr als bewähren, bisweilen gar an formaler und klanglicher Substanz dazugewinnen, ist weit gehend nachvollziehbar. Wie sich aber das Trio, allen voran Julian Rachlin, der bewusst virtuos und technisch gehaltenen Variationen annimmt, sich geradezu daran musikalisch anspornt, wird zum Erlebnis. Und das makellose, stets empfindsame Miteinander im Gesamten könnte überzeugender nicht sein.

Les trois virtuoses y font montre d'une cohésion que l'on n'attendait pas, brillant par des sonorités de velours, y compris de violon de Rachlin, et s'imposant l'essentiel des reprises . . . pour un album de quatre-vingts minutes . . . Les lignes sont clairement définies, les structures bien dessinées. S'émancipant des pratiques baroques, ce trio de gala peut se montrer stimulant avec des attaques tendues et des canons tirés au cordeau (Variation X), ludique grâce aux balancements de la XII puis romantique en s'adonnant à d'étranges soupirs et autres ritardendos (la XIII), véhément (la XIV contraste idéalement avec la précédente) . . . On aimera aussi les rythmes volontaristes de l'ouverture à la française (XVI), la nostalgie de la XXI, la mise en place millimétrée de la XXIX . . . Au total, une très belle lecture qui rend vraiment attrayante la transcription de Sitkovetski.

Julian Rachlin, Nobuko Imai et Mischa Maisky nous proposent une transcription intéressante pour trio à cordes des "Variations Goldberg", réalisée par Dmitri Sikovetsky et dédiée au pianiste Glenn Gould. On reconnait d'ailleurs l'empreinte rythmique des célèbres interprétations du pianiste canadien sur le jeu des musiciens. Les musiciens font preuve d'une certaine virtuosité . . .

El aserto de que la obra de Bach es música en abstracto y conserva toda su esencia independientemente del formato instrumental en que se ofrezca, se cumple a la perfección en este nuevo disco de ese genio del violonchelo que es Mischa Maisky.
Bach/Sitkovetsky: The “Goldberg Variations"



Transcriptions of Bach's keyboard works can look back on a long and venerable tradition. As early as around 1780, Emanuel Aloys Förster (1748-1823) arranged numbers from The Well-Tempered Clavier for string quartet, and he was soon followed by Mozart and Beethoven. Two centuries later, the violinist and conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky seized the opportunity afforded by the tercentenary of Bach's birth to arrange the Goldberg Variations for string trio. He dedicated his 1985 transcription to Glenn Gould, who had spent his whole life exploring this work, recording it for the first time in 1955, shortly after making his sensational New York debut, and for the final time in 1981, a year before his death.

Sitkovetsky's arrangement was performed for the first time in 1985 at Korsholm, where one of the leading Finnish music festivals had been established three years earlier. Compared with similar events elsewhere in Europe, this is a small-scale festival. But thanks to its intimate atmosphere and enthusiastic audiences it is so popular that world-famous performers enjoy appearing here. Sitkovetsky was its artistic director from 1983 to 1993. In Mischa Maisky, two of whose major Bach's recordings - the Gamba (or Cello) Sonatas and the Six Suites for unaccompanied cello - were released in 1985, he found a sympathetic partner for his arrangement of the Goldberg Variations.

Published that same year, Sitkovetsky's trio version of the work was so successful that he has gone on to produce more than 25 other transcriptions of Classical, Romantic and contemporary works, not only enriching the repertoire of chamber ensembles and string orchestras but also affording new insights into familiar pieces.

Writing in 1802, Bach's early biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, claimed that “because of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony", Bach regarded the composition of variations as a “thankless task". The fact that he nonetheless agreed to write an “Aria with Several Variations for a Two-Manual Clavicembalo" stemmed, according to Forkel, from a desire by the Russian ambassador to the Dresden court, Count Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk, to have a work that his young harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, could play to him when he was unable to sleep. Keyserlingk is said to have asked Bach during one of his visits to Leipzig to provide Goldberg with some pieces “of a gentle and somewhat lively character". Bach duly obliged with a set of variations which, thanks to Forkel, have gone down in history as the Goldberg Variations.

Nonetheless, the accuracy of this account of the work's genesis was called into question from an early date, not least because at the time of the work's publication in 1741 or 1742, as the fourth part of the composer's Clavier-Übung, Goldberg was only 14 or 15 years old. At the date of the work's composition in 1739/40 he was only around twelve, and it is doubtful whether he could have mastered its often highly virtuosic demands.

In general, it is now believed that in composing the work Bach wanted to continue and round off his Clavier-Übung, the first three parts of which had been devoted to partitas, to the Italian Concerto and Overture in the French Style, and to a set of organ chorales; all three instalments constituted exemplary collections of works that were now to be complemented by what has been described as an “encyclopaedic conspectus of the art of variation". Whereas comparable pieces by Bach's predecessors had largely been concerned with the application to the keyboard of different figures and techniques, Bach now drew additionally on the theory of counterpoint: with the exception of the final variation (the Quodlibet, no. 30), every third variation is a canon: no. 3 at the unison, no. 6 at the 2nd and so on to the 9th. These canons also serve to divide the work's two halves (Variations 1-15 and 16-30) into five groups each.

Moreover, each variation corresponds to a typical suite movement or character-piece. As a result the work operates on three technical levels that become clear only on closer study. Anyone performing the Goldberg Variations today must wonder whether listeners can really appreciate Bach's formal concept and compositional subtleties. When played on the piano or harpsichord, the upper voices are indistinguishable in terms of their actual sound, with the result that the various lines in the canons are frequently hard to follow. But in an arrangement for different instruments the textures emerge more clearly and make it easier for listeners to grasp the musical argument. The glorious singing melody of the Aria and the upper voice in several of the variations (nos. 13 and 25, for example) already sound as if they have been transcribed for the violin, and so string instruments seem ideally suited to the work.

The art of the arrangement has not always been held in high regard. But our musical horizons are now much broader, and period performing practice has established itself all over the world, no longer needing to be set apart from other types of interpretation with dogmatic insistence. Research and performing practice have revealed the flexible character of early music and in that way placed the creative process associated with transcriptions and arrangements in a new light. Just as Bach transcribed a number of Vivaldi's concertos for the organ or played his own sonatas for solo violin by adding accompanying chords on the harpsichord, so it should be possible today to accept a creative approach to his works.


Dorothea Schröder

7/2006