BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 – Pius Cheung, solo marimba – Pius Cheung

by | Mar 22, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 – Pius Cheung, solo marimba –, 52:39 ****:

The music of Bach seems to adapt well to a greater variety of instruments and styles of interpretation than that of any other classical composer. His masterpiece of the simple theme and 30 variations known as the Goldbergs has been transcribed for pipe organ, sax quartet, cello quartet, string quartet, synthesizers, you name it.  The concert marimba is an excellent instrument for the performance of Bach transcriptions and this is not the first work of the master to be adapted for it. Yet adaptation is incredibly difficult due to the physical layout of the instrument, the use of the mallets, and the limited range compared to the piano or harpsichord.

The marimba virtuoso in this recording feels that the music of Bach doesn’t belong on any one real instrument – that it is so “pure” that it goes beyond any real instruments. That is certainly supported by the failure of Bach (and other composers of the period too) to specify exactly what instrument or instruments a particular work was written for. Cheung says further “In music that is so perfect formally, rhythmically, contrapuntally, and harmonically, I feel it will always be able to shine in different tone colors, dynamics, tempi, articulations, and phrasings.”

I recall the first time I heard the Goldbergs performed by a saxophone quartet. It was a revelation, and this marimba version is as well. The different voices are brought out more strongly and the clarity of the percussion instrument drives home the various melodic lines with more emphasis than on a piano or harpsichord keyboard. The micing picks up all the details but is not so close as to over-stress the percussive hits of the bars. An excellent alternative to the usual keyboard version of this Bach masterpiece.  As Charles Ives would have said, “A real ear-stretcher.”

 – John Sunier

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