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Hyperion Records

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Ancient Harmony (1925) by Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Kunstmuseum, Basel / Gift of Richard Doetsch-Benziger, 1960 / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67826
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Release date: September 2011
Total duration: 148 minutes 52 seconds

'This arrangement has been recorded several times … but the Leopold's belated entry into the field eclipses all others … the hushed withdrawing of the Aria's ultimate reprise is spellbinding … for listeners, there are times when holding one's breath is inescapable' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is a triumphantly convincing account of the Goldberg Variations from the Leopold Trio, whose ability to draw the listener into the music never falters throughout this beautifully engineered recording … highly recommended' (International Record Review)

'As I did before starting on the journey, you may wonder if the Goldberg Variations played by a string trio could ever be as good as the best of piano or harpsichord versions. After having heard this recording in depth and while still hypnotised by its spell, I’m beginning to wonder if I ever want to hear it any other way' (MusicWeb International)

'The Leopold String Trio does the work full justice. Hugely enjoyable playing' (Scotland on Sunday)

Goldberg Variations 'Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen', BWV988
composer
published in 1741/2 by Baltasar Schmidt of Nuremberg

Aria  [4'15]
Aria da capo  [4'18]

Other recordings available for download
Matthew Halls (harpsichord)
Tatiana Nikolayeva (piano)
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
At the outset we hear the Aria; the G major Sarabande 3/4 from ‘Anna Magdalena’s Notebook’ (see above). This has an elaborate treble line, already a variation above the bass. Tovey observed of the Aria: ‘Its phrasing is as uniform as a chess-board; and if its harmonies had not a one-to-one correspondence with each variation, the form would be lost.’

Variation 1 3/4 is a duet with a quaver figure in the left hand, a semiquaver in the right, and the two interchanged. Rosalyn Tureck sees it as ‘an archway’ to the subsequent unfolding of Bach’s vast, expressive structure. With Variation 2 2/4 Bach introduces a delicate three-part cantabile; the upper parts pursuing a imitative dialogue, at variance with the bass line.

Variation 3 becomes the first of Bach’s canons; his canon on the unison 12/8. A trio with even-handed upper parts; these voices cross paths and through the bass its harmony is kept in motion. A constant overlapping of entries characterizes the ensuing four-part 3/8 fugal discourse with a sole three-note figure and its inversion.

The next, extrovert 3/4 duet called for two keyboards ‘a 1 Clav’ and ‘a 2 Clav’ as Bach originally dictated (Balthasar and Schmid) in his reference to the seperate manuals. A bouyant variation with frequent crossing of hands.

Variation 6. At the Canon on the second 3/8 we are on serene territory while upper discords resolve naturally to a third against a striding bass.

There follows a thematic duet 6/8; Bach’s sole variation in the manner of a binary gigue; commonly an animated fourth movement of the classical French-style suite.

Variation 8—yet another duet 3/4, originally assigned to the second manual. The first pair of statements are eventually inverted.

Bach’s ‘Canon in the third’ 4/4 is an essay in consonance with the bass more unconstrained, yet still making regular reference to the original harmony.

Variation 10 is a four-part fughetta 2/2. The four-part bass theme reminds us plainly of Bach’s harmonic starting point.

More outwardly virtuosic duet writing 2/2 characterizes Variation 11.

With the Canon in the fourth 3/4 entries are re-ordered and themes capriciously inverted in the latter half. Here the inversion is as clear and expressive as its original form. Bach must have smiled inwardly at his tacit, jestful approach to the prevailing formal structure.

In his embellished aria for Variation 13 Bach proceeds 3/4 with a rich, lyrical upper statement and the lower accompanying voices doubled; its style is ornamental throughout.

The 14th Variation is an outgoing duet calling for dazzling fingerwork 3/4. Each of four statements is eventually inverted.

With the Canon in the fifth and inversion 2/4 the work has deepened and a more elegiac note appears. This more sober, strongly emotional, chromatic writing finishes not on the conventional tonic, as one might expect, but on the fifth; ascending as one commentator remarks ‘into silence’.

Variation 16 is a bold, massive, French-style overture 2/2, still in binary form and generally regarded as Bach’s preparatory nod toward part two of the Aria and Variations. In strict form, as introduced by Lully (1685), the variation opens with dotted rhythms and ends with an accelerated fugue, in this instance the 3-part fughetta 2.

A straightforward yet highly complex duet 3/4 forms Variation 17.

It is followed by Bach’s Canon in the sixth 2/2. As the canonic parts move in sixths with the pause of a minim, accents of the upper parts are reversed. Resulting suspended discords give variation 18 a distinctive harmonic ‘thumbprint’. The polyphony is further ‘clarified’ and the Variation’s original bass also evident within the canonic lines.

In the trio 3/8 of Variation 19 brief figures (quaver and semiquaver) are periodically interchanged as the Variation progresses.

Bach’s duets become increasingly virtuosic as Variation 20 demonstrates. This one 3/4 has fast semiquaver triplets in two of its three sets of figures.

Canon in the seventh. A gentle, contemplative mood 4/4 is established as the closely-spaced parts succeed one another.

Variation No 22 is a four-part fugue 2/2; its guileless motif builds up with inexorable, structural splendour to full, ringing chords.

An exuberant, comic duet 3/4 with dashing double third and double sixth figures; Variation 23 includes tongue-in-cheek mordents and sobriety is cast to the winds.

Canon in the octave 9/8. This rural theme and answer proceeds with an aura of timelessness, while the melody moves to adjacent notes.

Variation 25: this highly charged G minor Variation 3/4 is a powerful, profoundly tragic utterance. A further embellished aria: the brilliant, chromatic bass structure and the unusually specific treble melody interact with unsettling intensity, almost threatening tonal stability.

Bach combines both duet and trio 3/4 in his 26th Variation. A two-part Sarabande is woven around with coursing triplet figurations.

Here, with the final Canon in the ninth 6/8 the bass is silent; the mood relaxed.

Both No 28 3/4 and the following Variation anticipate the work’s conclusion. Here the part-writing is supplanted in part by complex two-part embellishments. Karl Geiringer notes that this Variation and No 29 appear to anticipate a nineteenth-century style of keyboard writing.

With the penultimate Variation excitement is further heightened in chord sequences and fleet-fingered one-part passages.

Variation 30. At this point we might reasonably expect to discover a canon at the 10th. Instead Bach confounds and delights with his Quodlibet, a divertissement on popular tunes, rounding off the work in a genuine mood of humour and congeniality. It recalls the social fun enjoyed by the Bach family and their friends. The principal quodlibet tunes are German folksongs: ‘I have not been with you for so long’ and ‘Cabbage (Kraut) and turnips (Ruben) have driven me away’. The German saying ‘Durcheinander wie Kraut und Rüben’ can also mean ‘in complete confusion’ and some commentators believe this more idiomatic translation is clear evidence of Bach’s own (intentional) hearty laughter when recollecting the complexity of all that precedes his quodlibet.

Beneath the fugal treatment of these folk tunes Bach returns to his original bass. In doing so he leads listeners back to that generating Aria, the life source from whence these encompassing Variations stemmed and to which they now return. Finally, via immeasurable complexities, their wellspring is enhanced and re-invested with a profound, affirmative sense of renewal. For many listeners these closing sequences are the work’s most surpassing.

from notes by Howard Smith © 1992


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