Greensboro Symphony Music Director Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s popular string trio transcription of the Goldberg Variations of J. S. Bach was the perfect selection to celebrate the conductor’s fifth year of musical stewardship. The dearth of a local chamber music series struck one of Sitkovetsky’s predecessor’s, Peter Paul Fuchs. Elissa Fuchs said they were told “Greensboro doesn’t do chamber music.” Sitkovetsky’s most striking innovation in his first year of leadership was his initiation of a chamber music series utilizing guest soloists, orchestra members, and other outstanding Triad players. The University of North Carolina Greensboro’s School of Music has provided their splendid Recital Hall at no cost from the beginning. Musicians donated their services the first year but, since the second season, the series has been sponsored by Garson Rice, Jr. The series is called Rice Toyota – Sitkovetsky and Friends Chamber Series. Sitkovetsky announced from the stage the renewal of Rice’s financial support for next season before giving brief comments about Bach’s masterpiece.

This has been a banner season for lovers of Bach’s complex set of variations. Angelia Hewitt played the Goldberg Variations on a modern piano at Duke University last March. Before this performance, Sitkovetsky recounted the myth of the work’s origins as a work to be performed by Bach’s student, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, for his insomniac patron, Count Kaiserling, who had been the Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony. The thirty variations use the first eight notes of the bass line and chord progression of the opening aria, not its melody. Sitkovetsky drew attention to the fact that every third variation is a canon. The canons follow an ascending pattern ranging from the two higher voices in unison to the ninth. The pattern is broken after the ninth canon by a quodlibet, a popular musical joke of the period consisting of the juxtaposition of different melodies. Bach’s is comically based on two German folksongs, “I have been long away from you, come closer” and “Cabbage and turnips have driven me away.” The pattern of the canons is especially clear in Sitkovetsky’s trio version as each component is visually as well as aurally evident as it is shared between players.

At Classics, David Vernier describes Sitkovetsky’s transcription as “the most logical, sensitive, and musically satisfying” of the many arrangements made of Bach’s set. His string trio scoring helps enhance the average music lover’s appreciation of the technical nuances of Bach’s original keyboard version. Sitkovetsky played his violin eloquently, joined by GSO principal violist Scott Rawls, and cellist Brooks Whitehouse, a former UNCG faculty member and currently a faculty member of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The overwhelming impression of their performance was one of elegance and nuance combined with great precision. A broad palette of string color, dynamics, and tone was used. The strands of the musical lines were unusually easy to follow and the canons, shared between players, made a stronger impression than mentally teasing them out from a harpsichord or piano performance. The choices of tempos and of phrasing were superb.