Tom Strini

Frankly Music’s Epic Bach

By - Nov 28th, 2011 11:57 pm
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Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach sounded lush, ardent and exactly right Monday evening, as violinist Frank Almond, violist Kyle Armbrust and cellist Edward Arron played Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The three, playing on a Frankly Music series program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, played with generous vibrato and a big sound overall. In that respect, Almond, Arron and Armbrust took a Romantic approach to the piece. But Bach sounded nonetheless like himself, in part because they enforced a strong sense of meter, so the dance aspect of the music came through clearly. (You might say that on the sound side, they were more Casals, but on rhythm side they were more Norrington.)

In its original form, this set of 30 variations, plus an opening aria that repeats at the end, is a great monument to keyboard virtuosity. It is no less daunting in Sitkovetsky’s string version, but the players soared above its difficulties. Only the gnarly ornaments of the 24th variation, taken at a breakneck pace, seemed to tax them — effort so revealed gave the performance a whiff of Romantic valor. Otherwise, Almond, Arron and Armbrust drove through the music like an implacable, exhilarating force of nature.

Sitkovetsky was true to Bach’s notes, but conversion from keyboard to strings creates an unavoidable and very interesting side effect: The relatively equal weight of the voices and strings’ ability to sustain each tone turns absolutely everything in this piece into counterpoint. On the keyboard, the dances sound more homophonic, in the Baroque sense of soprano and bass lines interacting with harmonic fill in between. In such setting, the nine variations in canon contrast a little more with the dance.

These players sustained each line with crackling energy all the way through the phrase. That, the brisk tempos and the steady tread gave this performance a taut musculature that demanded and rewarded attention. Their throbbing vibrato and thickets of ornament added to many of the repeats (without slowing tempos, by the way) wound that tautness with decorative flowering vines.

Almond and pianist  Michael Mizrahi preceded the Goldberg with some illuminating discussion about it. Mizrahi then played the French Suite No. 5 in G in a clean, contemplative, rational way that evoked sentiments of lofty grace.

This program will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the conservatory, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. For tickets and further information, visit Frankly Music’s website or call the Wisconsin Lutheran College box office, 414 443-8802, which handles tickets for all Frankly Music events regardless of venue.


0 thoughts on “Frankly Music’s Epic Bach”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Goldbergs are all about ravishing the square root of arcane intervallic perversity, and Edward Arron found this with distinction as if he were born to the kingdom of Bach. Kyle Armbrust met Frank Almond’s cadenced, awesome mega surfing in a gorgeous wide-toned voicing so that everything worked together, a bridge between two very different handlings of the walls of the interval. That is to say, for example, a third, fourth, or seventh in which the space between two such consecutive notes seems to push on both notes as if they were two walls, versus a third, fourth or seventh which does not.

    I would like to suggest that the closing measures of Variatio 25 be played with one bow stroke to each group of eight, affanato as if “out of breath”, and that the tempo it be reduced by 1/2 and the tempo of Variatio 15 be reduced by 1/3. The reason for this is that Variatio 15 is very suggestive of Matthew 26:39 and Variatio 25 often discussed as possibly the duration of time spent of the cross followed by death. Added note: Variatio 29 is in thirds, a very likely representation of the three women who arrived at the empty tomb [Easter].

    French Suite V, with Michael Mizrahi was confident and relaxed. The work is in itself an ambiguous one in that it offers strong temptations to backslide into Francois Couperin but at the same time is built on the same mosaic chunks one finds in less French-identifying structures in Bach’s oeuvre, and is therefore enigmatic as a whole. but it is another example of where the whole charm of the piece is in its goon-like changes of tonal direction, which HIPsters convey with adjusted valuesweight given to note values themselves in place of the runaway fleetness with accenting that modern pianists apply to it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    correction, variatio 29 in three-note clusters. sorry

  3. Anonymous says:

    would also like to suggest that the violin part be taken with two violins instead of one [if this is humanly possibile given the difficulty], as the transcription itself seems to rebalance the structure further away from the violin part, which is unlike the tonal balance of treble v.s. alto and bass on the piano.

  4. Anonymous says:

    […] reviews here and […]

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