- Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)
Lots of other groups than the ones Bach would have known have decided they wanted a piece of him, from Stokowski's Philadelphia Orchestra to recorder consorts, brass groups, and even teams of electronic musicians. All these settings involve a degree of compromise. A string quartet, for example, brings a grammar of articulation to Bach that may give him a disagreeable accent. This project, originating in Russia, offers something of a middle ground for listeners who may enjoy the sound of Bach played by a contemporary ensemble: it has been carefully done so as to keep the structures of the "Goldberg Variations" front and center, with no more variety of texture than they would receive on a piano. Arranger Andrei Eshpai, whose career as a composer dates back into the Soviet era, chooses the combination of two oboes, an English horn, and a bassoon for his wind quartet -- all double reeds. He doesn't have to add (or subtract) too many notes, and the resulting music has an appealing, rather hymnlike homogeneity. The buyer is not entrusted with the knowledge of where the recording was made, but it may well have been in a church; the sound puts one in mind of an organ, which is certainly an instrument relevant to Bach's music. With the bassoon in its high register adding lovely lyrical tones in some of the slower variations (listen to track 13), the performance has a warm melancholy one likes to think of as Russian, even if the Homecoming Woodwind Ensemble (named for its association with the Homecoming International Chamber Music Festival, which brings heavily touring artists temporarily back to Russian soil) is, in the event, composed of two Russians and two Germans. An offbeat performance that will be appreciated by fans of wind music and unusually well tolerated by purists.