J S Bach: Goldberg Variations - Samuele Telari. © 2021 Delphian Records Ltd

CD Spotlight

What to do with Bach?

PATRICK MAXWELL listens to the 'Goldberg Variations' on the accordion

'Telari plays with an alluring sensitivity ...'


What to do with Bach? Here was a man who lived in many ways as a product of his times and composed for the strictures of his situation, yet produced music which was, if the clichéd term is allowed, timeless. Hence the countless attempts to re-interpret his music, whether that is by performing it on new instruments or by changing the premises of his pieces, such as in the operatic stagings of the Passions. Indeed, the most famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould, were of course on the piano, not the harpsichord Bach would have known, yet they are not known as modern interpretations so much as performances more attuned to the popular ear. It does not seem likely that the same will be said of Samuele Telari's new recording of the Variations on the accordion, not that it has radically transformed many of the notes of Bach's manuscripts. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality here is wholly different from that of the piano, and it brings another full sound world to the counterpoint. Yet all the same qualities of inventiveness and life of the best recordings of this work are still shown regularly enough in this fresher take on the most established of classics.

One thing is immediately evident about this recording on such an instrument. Running to over an hour and a half across two discs, it is about twice as many piano versions. Not that the pace is pointedly leisurely; Telari is obviously testing his instrument to some of its limits in the multi-layered textures of the fastest preludes and the most complex fugues. This sometimes creates a jarring effect, as the limits of the instrument in producing each part make up an unconvincing whole.

The first Aria, in its deceptive simplicity, provides the bass line which magically underpins the rest of the harmonic structure of the whole piece.

Listen — J S Bach: Aria da capo (Goldberg Variations)
(CD2 track 16, 0:00-0:39) ℗ 2021 Delphian Records Ltd :

Telari plays with an alluring sensitivity, although the tones of his instrument provide unwelcome moments of dissonances and misshapen chords. This means that the more profound moments, so intrinsic in the work of Lang-Lang and Gould, are more often missed here due to the lack in tonal range. That they are missing from Telari's own feelings about this piece is another question.

Yet there are certainly moments which come closer to such profundity, where the accordion more resembles the harpsichord or the organ. The contrast between the mathematical, the playful and the profound is embedded in this piece as Bach casually varies his styles and modes, making something 'completely unified and utterly diverse' as Andrew Mellor says in his passionate and well-written programme notes. Telari handles much of this text with remarkable delicacy and musicality, despite the constrictions of his instrument, which limit the energy in the speed of the Fifth Variation, but not the lyricism of the Third. No listener can be left in doubt of his own feelings for every phrase and bar.

Listen — J S Bach: Variation 5 (Goldberg Variations)
(CD1 track 5, 0:00-0:16) ℗ 2021 Delphian Records Ltd :

Listen — J S Bach: Variation 3 (Goldberg Variations)
(CD1 track 3, 0:00-0:22) ℗ 2021 Delphian Records Ltd :

This is in many ways a deeply endearing recording, showcasing the incredible skill of the player and the eternal reach of Bach's music in its reach and scope for such an instrument as the accordion. That this instrument prohibits much of the amount of scope in the greatest interpretations of this piece should not detract from Telari's imaginative playing.

Listen — J S Bach: Variation 29 (Goldberg Variations)
(CD2 track 14, 0:00-0:35) ℗ 2021 Delphian Records Ltd :

Inspired and energetic as well, it brings a renewed vigour to the Variations, which, in their mathematically crafted serenity, offer a radically different experience at each visit.

Copyright © 6 July 2021 Patrick Maxwell,
Buckinghamshire, UK







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