JS BACH Goldberg Variations (Rübsam)
There is already a rich catalogue of recordings made on the Lautenwerk, or lute-harpsichord, by the organist, pianist, teacher and sound engineer Wolfgang Rübsam for his own Counterpoint Records. Not only Bach’s <i>Art of Fugue</i>, the complete <i>Well-Tempered Clavier</i> and transcriptions of Bach’s Cello Suites but also the keyboard music of Pachelbel and one of Bach’s early masters, Georg Böhm. This recording of Bach’s <i>Goldberg Variations</i> on the same superb instrument, built by Rübsam’s friend Keith Hill, was therefore not unexpected. But it is surprising nonetheless. And quite wonderful.</p>
<p>Bach never wrote directly for lute; his works for the instrument are transcriptions from his pre-existing music or were written for the lute-harpsichord, an instrument designed to imitate the sound of the lute. In this it seemed remarkably successful: Bach’s student Agricola once wrote that a lute-harpsichord could fool experienced lutenists.</p>
<p>Hill’s lute-harpsichord has one manual, one set of gut strings activated by one of two sets of jacks – which mimic the way a lutenist moves his right hand closer to or further from the bridge to achieve different sound effects – and a set of brass strings which vibrate in sympathy with the plucked strings. It’s a beautiful, intimate, mellow sound, resonant yet with each note decaying quickly, recorder-warm rather than lute-pungent, which Rübsam exploits to the full. From the opening Aria through each of the 30 variations to the Aria <i>da capo</i>, whether canon, dance or overture, his <i>cantabile</i>, ‘horizontal’ conception of the work results in an improvisatory quality that is nevertheless characterised by absolute clarity and fidelity to Bach’s architecture.