Frankly Music’s Epic 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.
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.