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Goldberg Variations, BWV988 (1742, arr. string trio
by Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
(violin); Nobuko Imai (viola); Mischa Maisky (cello)
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, February 2006. DDD
477 6378 [80:08]
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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