Two-part Inventions, BWV772-786 (selection of six arranged Natalie Clein for violin and cello)
Suite No.3 for solo cello, Op.87
Goldberg Variations, BWV988 (arranged Dmitri Sitkovetsky for string trio)
Priya Mitchell (violin), Antoine Tamestit (viola) & Natalie Clein (cello)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 25 February, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This was the tenth “Annual Jacqueline du Pré Charity Concert” and was given in aid of the Pelican Cancer Foundation. Featured were the British cellist Natalie Clein together with two other young string players.
Like most people, I have heard numerous arrangements of Bach’s music, but never before the Two-part Inventions or the Goldberg Variations arranged for, respectively, violin and cello, and string trio. There is little point in comparing such arrangements with the originals: they will either work or they won’t.
In the six selected Two-part Inventions, originally for keyboard, both players sounded tentative and Priya Mitchell’s intonation was far from perfect; both musicians also used excessive vibrato, which made the textures very rich and obscured the rhythmic patterns that are an essential part of Bach’s music.
Natalie Clein then played Britten’s Cello Suite No.3. This autumnal work is dedicated to Rostropovich and is in the form of variations heard before the numerous ‘themes’ taken from Russian folk and liturgical sources. Clein’s tone was small and smooth, and while there were several beautifully modulated passages, the ‘scherzando’ variations lacked attack and dynamic contrast. Clein’s desire not to overstate, and to emphasise the work’s elegiac elements, gave this great music a disappointing one-dimensional quality.
Transcribing the Goldberg Variations for string trio is certainly adventurous, and the effect might have worked if the performance had been more focused. In terms of duration this was the shortest performance I have ever heard, simply because the players ignored all of the repeats. The constant use of vibrato was again cloying, limiting both rhythmic attack and tonal variation. This meant that the great eight-note bass line of the Aria, which forms the basis of the Variations, passed for little, so too the ground-bass of the central variations in each set of three, themselves divided by canons, which constitute the formal structure of the work. Perhaps a nod in the direction of ‘authentic performance’ would have helped to bring the arrangement to life, but presented in this way I wouldn’t want to hear it again.