Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Azica: Catalyst Quartet have...thrown themselves into the mix here with their creative and collaboratively arranged reimagining of [Goldberg Variations]

Catalyst Quartet

Bach/Gould Project
The Catalyst Quartet
Azica Records ACD-71300 (2015)

The Catalyst Quartet,
is an ensemble of the Sphinx Organization,, whose Founder is Aaron P. 
Dworkin, now Dean of The University of Michigan 
School of Music, Theatre and Dance.  Afa
Dworkin is President and Artistic
Director of the 
Sphinx Organization.  The
members of the Catalyst 
Quartet are
Donehew-Perez, violin; Jessie Montgomery,
violin; Paul Laraia, viola; and 
Karlos Rodriguez, 

Bach/Gould Project
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 string quartet
The Catalyst Quartet
Glenn Gould (1932-1982)
String Quartet op. 1 (1956)
The Catalyst Quartet
Azica Records ACD-71300

The liner notes for the Bach/Gould Project are by Matthew Leslie Santana.  He explains that Bach's first biographer, Johann Forkel, wrote that the work we now know as the Goldberg Variations takes its name from a "house harpsichordist" named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, whose employer, Hermann Carl von Keyserlink, supposedly asked Bach for some music to calm his nerves on sleepless nights.  Santana does not find the claim credible, particularly because Goldberg was only 14 years old and no printed dedication exists.  

Instead, Santana tells us, "In reality, the Goldberg Variations was Bach's final offering to his Clavier-Übung project, series of secular works for solo 
harpsichord."  He adds that the work was published "in 1741."  The aria which begins and ends the composition, the notes relate, " based on Handel’s Chaconne avec 62 variations from 1703-6; in fact, the bass line of the first eight measures of Bach’s aria is identical to 
Handel’s chaconne."

The notes further observe that countless instrumental combinations have been employed in interpreting the Goldberg Variations.  We then read "The members of the Catalyst Quartet have lovingly and enthusiastically thrown themselves into the mix here with their creative and collaboratively arranged reimagining of the work for string quartet.  Over the course of a year and a half, the quartet arranged, edited, worked, interpreted, reinterpreted, and reedited the aria and all thirty variations culminating in a residency at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in Aldeburgh, UK, in 2014 under the guidance of renowned cellist and Bach interpreter Pieter Wispelwey.  The result is the first fully realized four-voiced version of the Goldberg Variations and one that does serve to both Bach's thrilling counterpoint as well as the expressive and communicative capacities of the string quartet.

"Perhaps the most memorable interpreter of the Goldberg Variations has been Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who chose the piece as the content of his debut recording for Columbia Records in 1956."   The American pianist Lara Downes studied and played classical music from early childhood, but was also profoundly influenced by her late father's collection of jazz recordings.  In the Fall 2015 issue of the classical music quarterly Listen, Lara recalls hearing her father's recordings of "...Billie Holiday, Ellington, Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Glenn Gould's Bach, which is its own kind of bebop."

This reviewer is entranced by the Aria which opens and closes the composition. It has been a great many years since a new arrangement of a work of J.S. Bach has been so rewarding for us.  The Goldberg Variations are paired with String Quartet op. 1 (1956) (35:47) of Glenn Gould.

In April 2010 Laurence Vittes asked this question in a post for www.AllThings  "Glenn Gould's Solitary String Quartet: Is It a Masterpiece or an Unruly Child?" adding "55 years after its premiere, the jury is still out..."  "Preceded by obscure childhood compositions, an atonal bassoon sonata, and an unfinished piano sonata, the ambitious quartet - redolent of late Romantic Strauss and Schoenberg, with quotations from Beethoven's Grosse Fuge and Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 - is music of consequence, fugal riches, and often darkly sumptuous beauty.

"Even so, the quartet would certainly have been long forgotten if its composer were not a legend for his artistry at the keyboard."  Glenn Gould's composition is an interesting companion for the J.S. Bach work, but it is the Goldberg Variations, as interpreted by the Catalyst Quartet, which draws us to the Bach/Gould Project CD when we are ready to hear a great recording.  We congratulate the members of the Catalyst on their debut release.

Comment by email:
Hello,  My name is Billy Wild and I've been commissioned by the estate of grammy winning pianist Glenn Gould to remix his recordings and rebrand him for a younger generation. This has seemed to stir up quite a bit of controversy by making modern pop/hip hop tracks out of his catalog. When I began this I knew nothing about classical music yet now, 3 years later I've immersed myself in it. Now the likes of Grieg, Hindemith, and Bach get as many plays on my iPod as Kanye West.  

I believe that while controversial, the project has become necessary, Gould truly belonged in this generation in my eyes. To illustrate this I went to the absolute extreme, but in doing so I've discovered that there is large faction of young classical musicians who also have a love for electronic music. Thus, I've created a collective know as Uninvited Guests with the intention of getting the younger generation into the concert halls by making the concert halls a hot spot for innovation once again. I've left some links below, I'd be happy to give any more information upon request. 
Billy Wild                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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