Monday, April 04, 2011

Lost in transcription?

The violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky made his string-trio arrangement of the variations in 1985, the tercentenary of Bach's birth, dedicating his efforts to the memory of Glenn Gould, who had died three years earlier. But why anyone who has heard either of Gould's dazzling recordings of the Goldberg should need to bother with this arrangement is beyond me... Sitkovetsky's arrangement succeeds only in blunting the edge of Bach's extraordinarily fertile invention, depriving the music of its frisson of virtuosity and failing to conjure the kind of muscularity that is a vital ingredient in every great keyboard performance of the Goldbergs... Instead of broadening the appeal of this sublime work, this disc only diminishes it.
That is Andrew Clements reviewing a CD of Dmitry Sitkovetsky's transcription for string trio of the Goldberg Variations in the Guardian in 2007. Britten Sinfonia co-leader and Glenn's namesake Thomas Gould takes the opposite view saying:
Sitkovetsky’s two arrangements of the piece for string trio and string orchestra are lovingly and painstakingly done... I think that string instruments have expressive possibilities that a keyboard instrument doesn’t, for instance the possibility to tune notes expressively and to colour notes with vibrato.
Due to the advocacy of Tom Gould the Britten Sinfonia has programmed the Sitkovetsky transcription for string orchestra in their current concert series. In a neat programming juxtaposition Goldberg specialist Anglela Hewitt is playing two keyboard concertos in the same concerts. When I asked her at last night's Norwich pre-concert talk if she was a fan of the Sitkovetsky Goldbergs, Angela disarmingly admitted she preferred a good performance of the transcription to the bad performances of the keyboard original that many pianists produce.

Regular readers will know I am also firmly in the Sitkovetsky camp, a view that was reinforced by yesterday evening's winning performance by the Britten Sinfonia. The concert is repeated tonight at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall and I hope Andrew Clements is there.

* If you cannot make it to the QEH BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting a recording of that concert at 07.00pm on 6 April. For those beyond the reach of BBC Radio 3 the 1993 CD made by Dmitry Sitkovetsky's NES Chamber Orchestra, seen in my header image, is recommended. That Nonesuch disc comes with sleeve notes written by another fan of the Sitkovetsky transcrition, John Adams. As Nonensuch's parent Warner Music comes under the auctioneer's hammer more on John Adams and Nonesuch here.

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