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S & H Concert Review

Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Sitkovetsky)Dmitri Sitkovetsky (violin), Yuri Zhislin (viola), Alexander Chaushian (cello), St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London, Sunday 17 November 2002 (RB).


The usual, well-rehearsed arguments all apply to the idea of transcribing the ‘Goldberg’ variations for string trio: on the one hand, why tamper with such a near-perfect work of art? - on the other, Bach’s music is, here as so often elsewhere, so astonishingly adaptable to other instruments. Indeed, a quick survey of the score shows more than a handful of variations in three parts, and what better way to bring out the beauties of Bach’s part writing than giving each to a different instrument? Any keyboard player will confirm that maintaining continuity of each part is one of the biggest technical challenges of this work.

In the circumstances, Sitkovetsky has had a fairly straightforward task in producing his arrangement. That it succeeds brilliantly was in no doubt from very early in this concert. As both arranger and leader of the exceptionally fine trio that gave this performance, he must clearly take a large share of the credit for the occasion, but his partners Zhislin and Chaushian deserve no less praise for their playing.

Above all, there was a tremendous sense of enjoyment - fun, even - radiating from the platform in St Paul’s. The contrapuntal interplay of parts and the canonical bouncing of ideas from one player to another were a constant source of delight in the musical conversation, for audience as much as for performers. There were smiles on all sides. But there was also much to indulge the senses in the more lyrical passages, and of course Sitkovetsky’s customary technical brilliance with fingers and bow was greatly in evidence. Ensemble was terrific almost without exception (once or at most twice there was the smallest hiatus) and intonation was beyond reproach from all three players. A memorable evening by any standards.

The concert was part of an imaginative, varied and surprisingly large-scale festival, London ArtsFest 2002, taking place not only at St Paul’s but also Wigmore Hall, South Bank Centre and other venues. Running throughout November (until 3 December), the festival this year is featuring a wide variety of Eastern European artists and composers under the title ‘Bridging Cultures’. Look at for more details.

Richard Black

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