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Johann Sebastian Bach: The Art of Transcription Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – 15 Sinfonias, BWV 787-801 (arranged for String Trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin), Yuri Zhislin (viola), Luigi Piovano (cello)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, U.K. (June 2010) – 73’52
Nimbus Alliance Records NI 6199 – Booklet in English with an introduction by Dmitry Sitkovetsky, program notes by Calum MacDonald and artists’ biographies

Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations, originally written for a 2-manual harpsichord have survived many an arrangement attempt since they were first published in 1741. Joseph Rheinberger was one of the first composers to transcribe the Goldberg Variations in the late 19th century for 2 pianos. Max Reger revised the Bach/ Rheinberger oeuvre. Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni transformed Bach’s work into a bombastic orchestral score, shuffling around the order of the variations with notes and passages added at his discretion. Jacques Loussier arranged the Goldberg Variations for jazz trio. There are Goldberg Variations for harp, for accordion, for sax quartet, for marimba – the list is endless. Johann Sebastian Bach, himself an avid transcriber of other composers’ works, might have been amused at the vast variety of transformations his music has endured.

Inspired by the 1981 Glenn Gould recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations Russian violinist and musical multi-talent Dmitry Sitkovetsky first transcribed Bach’s masterpiece for string trio in 1984. There followed a version for string orchestra that has been performed worldwide. Sitkovetsky recently revised “his” Goldberg Variations. He also worked on transcriptions of Bach’s 15 Sinfonias BWV 787 – 801. Together with his congenial partners, violist Yuri Zhislin and cellist Luigi Piovano, Sitkovetsky recorded these Bach transcriptions for Nimbus Records.

The playing is magnificent. Sitkovetsky, Zhislin und Piovano form a well-balanced trio and the instruments blend perfectly. The opening theme of the Goldberg Variations lacks in decisiveness – the trio doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind whether to go for historical practice or a contemporary sound. But with the 1st Variation all doubts vanish: Sitkovetsky, Zhislin and Piovano opt for a full bodied 21st Century sound – the right decision, considering that this is a contemporary adaptation of a baroque work.

The lush, luxurious string sound certainly opens up new dimensions for the listener. New voices can be discovered; harmonic modulations, hitherto overheard are now in sharper relief. However, after some 30 odd Goldberg Variations for string trio, the 15 Sinfonias, all played with the same perfection and feel-well sound may seem too much of a good thing. Glenn Gould’s 1955 landmark recording of the Goldberg Variations may still sound refreshingly new after these transcriptions!

Wiebke Kuester




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