A deeply moving Goldberg Variations – on accordian

GramophoneThu 29th July 2010
Teodoro Anzellotti's Goldbergs are a remarkable achievementTeodoro Anzellotti's Goldbergs are a remarkable achievement

The first of our exclusive web-only reviews explores an unusual take on the Bach masterpiece

Bach
Goldberg Variations, BWV988 (arr Anzellotti)
Teodoro Anzellotti acco
Winter & Winter 9101702

Accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti is a technically immaculate and deeply musical player whose survey of the Bach Goldberg Variations makes few if any concessions to the instrument, cuts no corners and leaves the listener as thoroughly in awe of the music as if he or she had just been listening to Gould, Schiff or Landowska.

It’s little wonder that more than 300 new works have been written for Anzellotti by composers such as Heinz Holliger, Mauricio Kagel, Matthias Pintscher, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino, Jörg Widmann und Hans Zender. Luciano Berio created his Sequenza XIII especially for him and since 1987 he has taught at the Hochschule der Künste Bern. Anzellotti’s sizeable discography, most of it featuring modern music, includes a sparkling selection of 15 Scarlatti Sonatas (Winter & Winter, 9100622) which I’ve often used on the BBC Radio 3 Breakfast programme and this set of the Goldbergs is no less remarkable.

Back in 1988 another fine accordion player, Stefan Hussong, made a pioneering recording of the same work for Thorofon (Bella Musica Edition), also a tour de force, though if memory serves Hussong played fewer repeats than Anzellotti does here (his CD also makes room for music by Sweelinck). The long-breathed opening aria, with its carefully illuminated inner voices, is auspicious. The sonorous accumulation of contrapuntal lines in the Fourth Variation is another high point, not to mention the swift, nimble finger-work of the study in motion that follows. The flowing cantilena of the 13th Variation displays acute poetic sense and so does the work’s “black pearl” expressive climax, the 26th Variation.

The way Anzellotti negotiates the fast-flying 20th Variation is remarkable (his agility in the work’s more playful episodes, such as Variation 23, at times defies belief). Then the accelerating excitement of Variation 29 leads to a suitably momentous Quodlibet before the aria returns, as sublimely beautiful as it was some 70 minutes earlier when the journey began. Varied colours and rhythms abound and throughout the performance I was never aware that the transition from a double-manual keyboard (or piano) to “keys & buttons” had involved any significant musical or textural sacrifices. Indeed, the listening process enriches one’s experience of the work.

Perfect sound quality guarantees unsullied appreciation of a remarkable achievement, one that I am convinced even the composer himself would have found deeply moving. Rob Cowan

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