Bach's music certainly lends itself to transcriptions for various instruments, but to play the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, on strings is to take them out of any sound world with which Bach would have been familiar. That said, this release by Germany's Goldberg Trio (not an ad hoc group but one that has released recordings of music by composers other than Bach) tries to keep the contours of Bach's music in mind. They play a 1985 transcription of the work by Russian violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky that effectively reduces a large percentage of the music to three-instrument counterpoint. Other groups have played this transcription, but the Goldberg Trio takes it to another step, with a severe string tone intended to match the textures of Baroque music. Hear the opening Aria and any of the work's canons: the players restrict vibrato almost to the vanishing point and banish noise from their attacks to create an almost wind-like blend among the three instruments. In the more active variations, specified by Bach as playable on a two-manual harpsichord, the players delineate the entrances of individual lines not with crunching attacks but with a delicate pulling-back of the other voices. These antiphonal effects are aided by the engineering: the sound, captured in a Lutheran church, is extremely live, but it does capture the rigorously constructed textures that are at the heart of the group's interpretation. Some may still ask why the Goldberg Variations need to be played by a string trio, but this is a recording of choice for listeners who like the idea.
Bach: Goldberg-Variationen Review
by James Manheim