La Scena Musicale

Friday, December 4, 2009

Goldberg for Strings at the Montreal Bach Festival

By Hannah Rahimi

On Sunday November 30, The Montreal Bach Festival presented cellist Matt Haimovitz, violinist Jonathan Crow and violist Douglas McNabney performing Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations at eXcentris.

It was a pleasure to listen to Haimovitz’s passionate playing, Crow’s lyrical touch and McNabney’s elegant phrasing. The canonic elements of the variations are well suited to trio adaptation, as the three instruments perfectly emphasize the separate but intertwining lines of melody. The opening aria was beautifully sustained, with a simple lyricism that reappeared in the slower Variations ( 13, 15, and particularly 25). The pizzicato of Variation 19 was cleverly harpsichord-like, though perhaps out of place stylistically with the rest of the movements.

At times, the trio version of the Goldberg Variations seemed lacking. Three distinct string timbres cannot emphasize chromatic tensions and resolving dissonances with the same homogenous effect as a harpsichord or piano. Rapid tempo choices in certain movements made for an exciting performance but detracted from the even accuracy that can be achieved when the piece is played by one set of hands on a keyboard.

Whether or not the Variations adapt well for string trio, Haimovitz, Crow and McNabney gave a compelling performance. I look forward to the rest of the Bach Festival.

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