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alternatively Crotchet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV988 (1742, arr. string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
Julian Rachlin (violin); Nobuko Imai (viola); Mischa Maisky (cello)
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, February 2006. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6378 [80:08]

A fairly recent performance - November last year - at London's Wigmore Hall of Sitkovetsky's string trio arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations given by the Leopold String Trio proved revelatory. Although there have been recordings of the arrangement, there have been none with such a high-profile line-up as the present one up for review. Imai and Maisky have long been acknowledged and the huge talent of the younger Julian Rachlin joins the team for a stimulating traversal which only just fits onto one disc - note the playing time of just over eighty minutes!
The Theme is given an emaciated delivery, as if stripped to the very barest of bones, simply inviting elucidation. In the hands of Rachlin, Imai and Maisky it begins a journey that is more harrowing than most.
The massive gusto with which Maisky launches into the tenth variation (Fughetta) exemplifies the scale of this performance to perfection, its ruggedness definitely foreshadowed by the determination of the very first variation. The recording, too, is fairly beefy - the church acoustic is identifiably there, but the microphones are mightily close. So close in fact that evey little bow movement and attack is readily audible. Luckily no-one grunts! All this is not to imply that there are no pianissimi far from it, but the quieter moments do rather seem to be there just to rest the ear.
The second longest variation (XIII) verges on the hymnic. There is certainly about it more than a hint of the devotional. The viola and cello's chasing each other in the eleventh variation is almost playful until what sounds like added reverb gives it a slightly spooky effect. The Ouverure (Variation XVI) has plenty of grandeur; Variation XXVI is pure virtuosity all round; the pizzicati of Variation XIX are positively delicious! Yet, on the debit side, I would have welcomed more of a sense of play at times - particularly Variation XXIII, which precedes two notably restrained variations. Adagio Variation XXV is arguably over-Romanticised - it lasts 7'39; the last Variation, XXX, suffers from more of the same. The return of the Aria, though, makes its point, leaving one at the end again speechless in the face of Bach's unending invention.
If there is a central criticism it is that Maisky has a tendency to dig relentlessly into anything that is marked around forte and on his lowest string. It sounds like he had a fine old time, but it can get a touch tiring; the close recording emphasises this.
Unfortunately I have not been able to hear Maisky's other recording of this on Orfeo, with the arranger (Sitkovetsky) on violin. There is much to admire on the present release, but alas I cannot justify a full recommendation.
Colin Clarke




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