Goldbergs Arranged

Strauss
Capriccio – Prelude [arr. Sitkovetsky]
J.C. Bach
Symphonie Concertante in A for violin, cello and orchestra
J.S. Bach orch. Sitkovetsky
Goldberg Variations

Boris Garlitsky (violin)
Alexander Zemtsov (viola)
Henri Demarquette (cello)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin)


Reviewed by: Edward Lewis

Reviewed: 12 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

“Too many twiddly bits – I prefer Bach’s”. That was the verdict of one of the audience following the superb performance by the London Philharmonic under the benign guidance of Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Perfect proof that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – she was referring to Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for string orchestra of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and appeared unaware that almost all of the notes heard were, indeed, Bach’s originals.It is always refreshing and interesting to hear music recast for a different medium and a brave move for performers to tackle such adapted works, risking as they do charges of pandering to the false god of novelty and sensationalism (“Sitkovetsky String Shocker”) or simply doing it wrong (“Too Many Twiddly Bits”).

What Sitkovetsky has done in arranging Bach’s Goldberg Variations (usually harpsichord and piano) for string orchestra is to bring a new perspective to a wonderful work; he does not attempt to recreate what Bach himself might have done, but instead expands what is effectively a set of variations in instrumentation. Using the 32 commentaries as a vehicle, Sitkovetsky explores a multitude of different textures, some of which work better than others. The opening ‘Aria’ used the gorgeous sustaining tones of the four section leaders (excluding double bass), canonic variations were passed rapidly around the full sections, the faster variations careered joyously between soloists, and musically intelligent and creative dynamic shadings added a hitherto unconsidered shape to much of this work.

Sitkovetsky himself played with solid, clear brilliance, perfectly complemented by Alexander Zemtsov’s tonal depth and sensitivity. Boris Garlitsky’s playing, perhaps by comparison, appeared slightly cumbersome, and moments of meandering intonation clouded some otherwise sublime playing.

Garlitsky was joined by the passionate Henri Demarquette for Johann Christian Bach’s Symphonie Concertante. Demarquette’s wonderfully powerful approach lent itself to the more intense passages, and the cadenza for both soloists proved a dazzling display of virtuosic fireworks. The brooding, dark sections of the second movement provided a surprising change towards a more Romantic style, with far more gradations of dynamics, accompanied by some beautiful oboe playing. There seemed to be occasional differences of opinion between Sitkovetsky and the orchestra, but the entire performance was happily relaxed, very much in the spirit of the music itself.

Sitkovetsky’s skills as an arranger had been more than proven with the ‘Prelude’ to “Capriccio”. Here, Strauss’s lush string writing was perfectly incorporated while maintaining the texture of the original string sextet. This was as much to do with the consummate skill of the ensemble, Sitkovetsky having only to gently shape the musicians’ natural musical unity and communication.

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