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Fanfare Magazine: 43:3 (01-02/2020) 
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Code-barres / Barcode : 7318599923475

Reviewer: Raymond Tuttle

Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky created and recorded (for Orfeo) a version of the Goldbergs for string trio that was “in memoriam Glenn Gould.” In a written introduction to the present release, Trio Zimmermann acknowledges Sitkovetsky’s version but, reading between the lines, appears to find it lacking. They write, “... [W]e became captivated by the original score and its innumerable beauties and details. We have therefore decided to offer a string trio version which is—as far as possible—neither an arrangement nor a transcription, but basically an unveiling of Bach’s score.” I do not find the Sitkovetsky version more or less “veiled” than this new one, and anyway, in this context, I am unsure about what “veiled” even means. More to the point, perhaps, the Sitkovetsky version (with violist Gérard Caussé and cellist Mischa Maisky) is played more Romantically (with more vibrato and freer phrasing, etc.) than this new one, but that has more to do with performance styles than with transcriptions or arrangements. If Trio Zimmermann feels that their version, played more authentically than Sitkovetsky’s, is “unveiled,” it hurts no one to let them continue to feel that way. At least it doesn’t hurt me!

The members of Trio Zimmermann are just about as famous, within their generation, as Sitkovetsky’s group is in theirs. They are violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, violist Antoine Tamestit, and cellist Christian Poltéra. I would have liked to read more about what strategies the three musicians employed to divide up a two-handed keyboard work in which every third variation is a canon. To me, this sounds like a much taller order than arranging the Goldberg Variations for orchestra, for example. If this work had been arranged for an orchestra, there would have been no expectation that all parts of the orchestra shared the performance more or less equally. A string trio, on the other hand, is a chamber ensemble, of course, and favoring one instrument over another is clumsy and inconsistent with the spirit of chamber music. Zimmermann, Tamestit, and Poltéra give themselves and each other equal time in this new version. Although Zimmermann takes the lead in the “Aria” and the “Aria da capo,” throughout the work, each musician is given opportunities to be put in the spotlight—to carry the melody and to show off his virtuosity.

Purists probably will object to this work being played by a string trio, but if they can get over that, then they should find much to approve of here. As I wrote above, Trio Zimmermann has taken authenticity of style into consideration more than Sitkovetsky’s group did, and at no point does this version sound odd on unmusical. (Don’t forget that, in recent years, we have had arrangements of the Goldberg Variations for all kinds of instruments, including for guitar, for harp, and for accordion, so perhaps a string trio isn’t as much of a stretch.) The faster variations are played with infectious high spirits, and in the so-called “Black Pearl” variation (No. 25) there is almost as much introspection as one would expect to hear in a performance on a harpsichord or a piano. The final variation, the Quodlibet, could have been played with more earthy humor, but it is consistent with the spirit of this performance overall.

Given the elegance of the playing, and the performers’ obvious concern for maintaining a period style, it is hard not to recommend this recording, even if it is played on the “wrong” instruments. This project turned out nicely. It gives the Sitkovetsky version a run for its money—and then some!

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