- Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)
- Want it by Thursday, September 27 Order now and choose Expedited Shipping during checkout.
Instrumental transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach's keyboard music have been legion -- witness just how many there are of "The Musical Offering" and "The Art of Fugue" -- and yet very few of them seem to catch on. One notable exception is violinist and conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky's 1985 trio arrangement of the "Goldberg Variations," made to observe Bach's tercentenary and as a memorial to pianist Glenn Gould, more readily associated with the Goldbergs than perhaps any other musician aside from Johann Gottlieb Goldberg himself. One reason that this arrangement has been so widely adopted -- and recorded -- is that it works; being able to hear Bach's polyphony as individual instrumental lines helps elucidate his contrapuntal thinking in a way that a standard keyboard performance can only partly convey. In Deutsche Grammophon's Bach: Goldberg-Variationen three very heavy hitters among chamber musicians -- cellist Mischa Maisky, violist Nobuko Imai, and violinist Julian Rachlin -- combine their considerable talents in the service of Sitkovetsky's arrangement with spectacular results. Although the 30 variations and two iterations of the opening Aria are assigned a track apiece, Deutsche Grammophon have intelligently sequenced the album as a continuous unit, with practically no breaks between tracks. Although keyboard performances generally time in at about 40-50 minutes, Maisky, Imai, and Rachlin take every repeat that Bach specifies and this recording lasts just eight seconds over a whopping 80 minutes, the maximum time for the average compact disc's length. This gives the group some breathing room to stretch out and vary the repeated selection slightly, an approach that is in keeping with Baroque practice, as we know of it. But this is not a "period" performance in any other sense -- what Maisky, Imai, and Rachlin bring to it is a Romantic's sense of warmth and fluidity, an aspect of Bach performances once common but conspicuously missing in an era where period practitioners of Bach's music dominate his oeuvre as though it is their property. The work of Bach, nevertheless, belongs to the whole world and adapts to just about any treatment you wish to apply to it. This performance is of such exceptional qualities that even the composer would have been floored by it, the care shown toward phrasing and ensemble dynamics; the flowing, wave-like textures in slower passages; and the brio and snap of faster ones. Not all "all-star" recordings of chamber literature necessarily rise to the top of the pack by virtue of their star power; nevertheless, Deutsche Grammophon's Bach: Goldberg-Variationen is top-notch Bach, transcribed or not. This strongly unified performance demonstrates that the Romantic approach to Bach, well done, is not a "bad" way to represent his music, just different from established norms and authoritative in its own way.