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Gold Berg/Mine Variations
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV988 (1742) [43:07]
Jukka TIENSUU (b. 1948)
(2006) [31:40]
Denis Patković (accordion)
Movements of each work interspered.
rec. 17-19 September 2007, Hochschule für Musik Würzburg, Rezidenzgebäude
Experience Classicsonline

Hearing the opening Aria of the Goldberg Variations on accordion, and I couldn’t help my imagination seeing the image of bearded old salt playing for his own amusement on the pier-side, the sound of lapping water and seagulls in the distance. This association is no doubt a result of my over-exposure to ‘Spongebob Squarepants’; almost every great sporting event of the moment being obscured by my 6-year old daughter’s demanding television schedule. The struggle to accept this music on anything other than a harpsichord or piano is however something everyone will have to deal with, in their own way, sooner or later.
I mentioned having this CD to my musician friend Johan the accordion, and he was unsurprised, telling me of the amazing things players from Russian and eastern Europe were doing. It is also possible to come across such players busking their way around the world. Not the ones who bother you on trains or the Paris metro, but you can hear some incredible things at more recognised locations. Hänssler seems taking a punt on Denis Patković’s chiselled good looks selling a few copies as well as this experiment in advanced programming, but, like the romantic banjo player’s almanac, I’m not sure how many of the chicks are going for accordion players these days.
Technical prowess and sex appeal aside, a more interesting aspect of this recording is that Denis Patković has collaborated with a composer, Jukka Tiensuu, in order to make a new work, or a new kind of presentation of the Goldberg Variations. This kind of creative confluence has of course been done before, for instance with Telemann’s 12 Fantasies for flute solo. The advantage of coming at Bach from this angle is that, in this case, there is already a sense of strangeness about hearing the work on accordion, so that the ‘interruption’ of the variations is less of a shock. These new pieces, while performable as single works and outside the Goldbergs, have mostly been written with the tempo, melodic shape and harmonies of the surrounding Bach variations taken into consideration. This may or may not be clearly apparent, but if you are prepared to hear Bach’s music as ‘modern’ then there should really be no problems. After all, if we can argue than Bach’s music is as relevant to us today as it was when it was written; then no-one should be allowed to moan when his music is taken up by contemporary composers and used as a framework. Denis Patković describes the relationship between the old and the new as a kind of bridge, seeing a performance of the Goldberg Variations as ‘like taking a trip around the world; ‘Erz’ extends this trip by adding new, very interesting stopovers.’
To be honest, I hadn’t expected to get much enjoyment from this disc, but I’ve had to swallow my preconceptions and admit that this is far from being the bizarre chimera I had imagined it would be. Patković demonstrates that the two manuals of the accordion are not only the equivalent of Bach’s harpsichord, but, being spatially separated left from right, add an extra dimension of transparency to the music. Hänssler’s excellent recording clarifies this without turning it into an extreme experiment in stereophonics - a good thing, since too wide a spread and you get the strange aural sensation of listening to an accordionist with very long arms. The movements of Erz often enhance the atmosphere of the Goldberg Variations as a kind of lonely nocturnal exploration of life’s experiences and the inner soul, and I’ve appreciated having this aspect of the music being brought to the fore. Tiensuu’s work does indeed extend the technical range and demands of Bach’s composition in its own world of variation form, and prevents Denis Patković’s recording from becoming another vanity-advert for well known music on alternative instruments. Tiensuu’s work is by turns atmospheric and energetic, sometimes challenging, sometimes beautiful, but never really shockingly atonal or avant-garde: you may be baffled on occasion, but it’s good, stimulating bafflement. My only beef with the programme is that we don’t have the reprise of the Aria at the end, and the disc concludes with Tiensuu’s rabble-rousing Erz finale, entitled Forwards.
Dominy Clements


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