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CD Feature/ Denis Patkovic: "Bach & Tiensuu: Goldberg - Mine Variations"

img  Tobias
There are some decisive advantages of Denis Patkovic’ take on the Goldberg Variations: You do not need to forget you ever heard the music to be able to appreciate it. You do not need to care about the novelty factor of performing Bach on an Accordion. And you certainly do not need a musical encyclopedia to compare it to the bewildering cornucopia of competing versions. Just like Glenn Gould’s seminal rendition (love it or hate it), Patkovic has approached the work in such an utterly personal fashion that it stands out from the pack as though it were a piece of his own.

In a way, it is. Patkovic found out pretty quickly that the technical aspects of the transciption were demanding but surmountable. Laughing in the face of original practise dogmatics, he proclaimed that the unique characteristics of his instrument actually allowed for a performance probably better in tune with baroque ideals than the Piano and possibly even the Harpsichord. Bravely weathering the difficulties, he relied on the emotional power of the music and the rare occasions, when the architecture of the Accordion would actually make his task easier instead of harder.

His longstanding love for the Goldberg Variations, however, which he listened to intensively for an extended period of time prior to realising this interpretation, conflicted with the seeming banality of simply releasing yet another performance. How, he asked himself, could the music truly come to life again, how could it arrive in the 21st century without taking in electronics or sampling.

More and more, a daunting answer began to form in his mind, at first too daring to be spoken out aloud but constantly growing in clarity: The piece was in need of an inbuilt dialogue, a meta-musical counterpoint, a contrasting mirror for reflections. In short: It needed to be enhanced by a second composition.

Who knows whether Patkovic would have persued this train of thought without his trustful relationship with Finish composer and teacher Jukka Tiensuu. As it was, however, Tiensuu was fascinated by the proposition and gladly accepted his former student’s commission. The result of his labours, “Erz” comprises a total of fourteen pieces, which can both be played independently of the Goldberg Variations or sewn into its fabrics at strategic positions. The outcome is a new conglomerate, longer and even more mysterious than the famous blueprint.

It does take some time to get accustomed to this fresh vision. Tiensuu’s pieces have been said to be commenting on Bach, but it remains opaque in which way. Even though their beginnings and endings are purposeful transitions into the previous and next Variation, their wilfully different vocabulary by default turns them into foreign bodies at first. Initially fleetingly short and ephemeral, their length gradually increases and so does their relative loading – with the five minutes of “Sway – Piegando”, almost at the very end of the Goldberg, both worlds have attained equal relevance.

A second, and less intellectual, listen reveals the true meaning of these pieces. Tiensuu and Patkovic are not interested in a contemporary update of Bach, they want their audience to appreciate his music in its purest possible form. The sometimes drastic rhythmics and textures of the additions may render the piece less coherent, but it enigmatically turn it more fluent. By conjuring up contrasts, they bring out the beauty, serenity and grace of the original more sharply. It is almost, as if they were anticipating the emotional reactions of a “modern” public, offering moments of respite before lapsing back into the magic of the past.

If the Goldberg Variations are a river, then this version has dug holes into its shores and deepened its bed, taking the ship far into its narrow affluents. Patkovic version is sometimes as schizophrenic as the mind of a madman lost in a haunting chain of associations, yet the moments when he heals all wounds and sails safely into a colourful harbour of harmony make every dissonance seem justified.

One of the first thing you’ll want to do after listening to this 74-minute disc (after catching your breath, that is) is to either put it on again or to check out Bach’s original to see whether it can compete with its fledgling sibling. With the bewildering cornucopia of competing versions out there, that is quite an achievement for sure.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Denis Patkovic
Homepage: Hänssler Classic Recordings