Leopold String Trio BACH Goldberg Variations

The arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, for string trio by Russian violinist and composer Dmitry Sitkovetsky has taken on a life of its town, with multiple performances and even a sort of electronic remix by Karlheinz Essl. The appeal for string chamber groups longing to share in Bach's riches is obvious, and for audiences it appears to be another case of Bach's music standing up to whatever you do to it. Like most other annotators, Hyperion's Nigel Simeone tries to claim that the arrangement is on a par with the numerous transcriptions Bach made of his own works. It is no such thing; the string chamber texture by its nature adds expressive devices that were not of Bach's world, and he would have found Sitkovetsky's version bizarre. If you haven't heard it before, sample the eighth variation (track 9) of this recording by the Leopold String Trio, with its scooping cello attacks at the beginning. Sitkovetsky takes several approaches in breaking up Bach's polyphonic textures among the instruments of the string trio, and once you accept that the work is a sort of textural fantasia on Bach rather than the real thing, it's very enjoyable, and it's obvious that performers are having fun with it. Players have ranged from severe, viol consort-like textures (the Goldberg Trio's recording) to fluttery galant style. The Leopold String Trio comes in around the middle with a reading that keeps the characteristic string trio feel and is unabashedly emotive in the climactic variations, but nevertheless seems to be reacting to Bach's music itself. The recording benefits from lovely sonics, accomplished at that favorite haunt of Hyperion engineers, the Wyastone Estate concert hall, and the bottom line is that if you think hearing the Goldberg Variations played on strings will float your boat, this recording is a good pick. (James Manheim)

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