Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (arr. string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
Amati String Trio (Gil Sharon (violin), Ron Ephrat (viola), Alexander Hülshoff (cello))
rec. December 1999, Middelburg, The Netherlands. DDD.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9184 [54:26]
This string trio arrangement of the Goldbergs is well played by the Amati Trio. That said, this configuration lacks the level of awe and fascination attained by Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for chamber string orchestra (NES Chamber Orchestra, Nonesuch 79341-2, 1993). The orchestral version is light and shimmering: veils waving in the wind, sun glimmering on the stream. It is vivacious and humorous. Masterfully diverse, the orchestral variant is a true match for the diversity of the piano version. You owe it to yourself to hear that version.
Sitkovetsky also did this trio arrangement, and it turns out to be just plain. The violin is on the top, the cello on the bottom, the viola in the middle - no surprises, just splitting the music into three voices. It isn’t boring - Goldbergs can’t be - but it is … standard. Also, the performance lacks the excitement generated by the NESCO, though the same Ron Ephrat who played solo viola in NES is the violist here. What we get from the Amati is more or less the same volume throughout, more or less unchanging tempo. Where does one variation end and the next begin? As with the harpsichord versions, the listener needs to work, to add colors mentally. Perhaps I have been forever spoilt by the orchestral version? I don’t think so. Even considering the limited powers of a string trio, I would have expected more grace and airiness. Most important, we lose maybe the most fascinating feature of the Goldbergs: their infinite inventiveness, their capacity to open new vistas at every turn.
The recording quality is very good, showing all details clearly. It is rather close, yet spacious enough. The short liner-note (English only) speaks about the history of public acceptance of arrangements of Bach’s music. It also recounts the performing history and repertoire of the trio and of each of its members.
This disc may be perfect if you need to play some Bach in the background: it is evenly pleasant, and keeps a stable dynamic level. If, however, you want to know the real depth of the Goldberg Variations, there are a few good piano versions - Oh, and did I mention Sitkovetsky’s orchestral arrangement? Those other versions have it within them to show why this work is one of the cornerstones of Western music.
Nowhere near the level of awe and fascination generated by Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for chamber string orchestra.