Classical Review: Phoenix Ensemble
Bach: Goldberg Variations. Christchurch, May 2.
Bach Photo: Painting by Elias Gottlob Haussmann
Bach’s Goldberg Variations, arranged for strings by Bernard Labadie, were
performed by the Phoenix Ensemble of early instruments, directed by Myrna
Arranging a harpsichord solo work by Bach for strings is a daring
Conductor Labadie’s attitude of “anything you can do I can
do better” with regard to Bach is hardly appropriate. Bach, after all, may be
credited with having known his period instruments at least as well as Labadie,
and probably would have used them if he had felt so inclined.
strings’ songful sound is hardly a substitute for the harpsichord’s
decisive-incisive keyboard touch, a characteristic of this work. The instrumental
balance was also problematic since the delicate sounds of the harpsichord were
mostly drowned out by the domineering strings.
In its unaccompanied solo
variations, Marina Minkin’s harpsichord renditions sounded, therefore, most
On the other hand, the diverse tone colors of the various
string instruments provided the welcome advantage of creating transparency for
the work’s intricate polyphonic textures. Consequently, one could appreciate
Bach’s contrapuntal ingenuity in all its glory. And that was the significant
artistic achievement of this excellent performance.