Trio Accord’s stellar recording of J.S. Bach’s monumental work, brilliantly arranged by Dmitri Sitkovetsky for the string trio, was released on the Skylark label in October, 2008 and celebrates their tenth year of musical collaboration.
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The Goldberg Variations & the String Trio
The Artists’ Statement
In 1985, the tercentenary of Bach’s birth, the Goldberg Variations were transcribed for string trio by the internationally renowned violinist, Dmitry Sitkovetsky. We are indebted to him for this ingenious arrangement, which gives us the opportunity to play one of Bach’s greatest works.
The transcription is dedicated to the memory of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, whose 1955 recording of the Variations attracted worldwide attention. Since then, piano performances of this work have been widely accepted.
Playing an arrangement of a Bach keyboard work on bowed string instruments raises questions about style and interpretation. Should one imitate the percussive and brilliant style of the harpsichord? Is Baroque string performance practice relevant, with its restrained vibrato and the distinctive sound quality associated with gut strings and convex bows. And in the canons, where the violin and viola alternately state the canonic subject; to what extent should one take advantage of the timbral differences between the instruments?
After considerable debate and exploration, we found the unique character of each variation strongly guiding our interpretation. It seemed restrictive to consistently imitate the keyboard, or to simply employ Baroque performance practice. For example, in Var. 22 we hear clear references to much earlier compositional styles, so our performance is fashioned in the stile antico. In contrast, we play Var. 25 in a quasi-Romantic style, creating as much colour and nuance as possible in order to capture the variation’s mournful and complex harmonies. Meanwhile, the virtuosic variations (Var. 5 and 8, for example) call for execution of the utmost brilliance.
The Goldberg Variations is a secular composition – virtually a treatise on the art of the variation – nevertheless; it expresses such joy and pathos, celebration and mourning, that it is reminiscent of the sacred music Bach composed to the glory of God. This has inspired us and has been the foundation upon which we have developed our interpretation.