Bach: Goldberg Variations - RCO Camerata
Barcanova Records BNP1701 (2 discs)
Classical - Chamber
Bach: Goldberg Variations
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 1, 2020
BarcaNova Records is a relatively new Dutch label. On their stylishly ‘cool’ website, BarcaNova founder, Hubert Koekenberg, outlines the label’s adage as follows: “Passionate and devoted to classical music, we aspire only perfection. Putting our all into producing only the best music”. Surely a stimulating statement invoking immediate curiosity among dedicated Hi-Res classical music fans like me. All the more reason to sample their first release: Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Although originally written for the harpsichord, several other versions exist. Best known is, of course, Glen Gould’s piano version. And there are also some great organ versions around. But there’s a whole lot more. Some even as far-fetched as a re-composition for choir & baroque ensemble. More down to earth are transcriptions for solo guitar as well as several other for combinations of different instruments, one of them being Sitkovetski’s arrangement for string trio. It is this version that has been chosen for BarcaNova’s first release. For detailed information, I refer to the liner notes, which you will find well worth reading.
The trio are members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and more in particular of its inner circle, the Camerata RCO. All playing on historical instruments. Annabeth Webb, a one-time pupil of the famous Dutch violin pedagogue, Coosje Wijzenbeek, plays a beautiful 1711 violin built by the Neapolitan instrument builder Nicolo Gagliano, on loan from a private foundation; Jeroen Woudstra performs on an original viola, built in 1767 by the French luthier, Jean Baptiste Lefèbvre. Honorine Schäffer plays on a violoncello built in 1840 by Georges Chanot, another famous French Maître Luthier. The musically weathered character of these historical instruments does allow the musicians to produce a beauty of tone in each of the variations that can hardly be matched by modern siblings. Especially the warm sound of the cello caught my ear. The result is a delicately animated reading with a great deal of attractive musical expression.
I’m furthermore pleased to confirm that my listening tests made it unmistakably clear that these young musicians can easily live up to the standard of other, similar transcriptions of the Goldberg Variations, like for instance the one with Trio Zimmermann (BIS). Charmingly high spirited and technically perfect though they are, I find them a shade too superficial and at times even as ‘mechanical’ as a harpsichord. Surely a matter of taste, with which I won’t quarrel, but with three stringed instruments one can do so much more. Experience learns that in many arrangements and transcriptions - and not just this one - interpretative flexibility of Bach’s music can be stretched a long way as long as its nature remains intact.
And last but not least, there is the surprise of the recorded quality. BarcaNova has solicited the services of Bert van der Wolf for sound engineering and mastering, with the predictable result that home listening will get as close as is possible to the real thing.
A brilliant start for this label, and I shall be looking forward with much anticipation to following releases.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net