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Bach Goldberg Variations Live & Recorded

Calefax Reed Quintet
Oliver Boekhoorn oboe
Ivar Berix clarinet
Raaf Hekkema saxophone
Jelte Althuis bass clarinet
Alban Wesly bassoon

Bach Goldberg Variations BWV988 (arr. Raaf Hekkema)

Wigmore Hall Monday 22 June 2009

This was an exceptional concert, which received astonished acclamation from the BBC's regular lunchtime audience.

Calefax sounds very different from a normal wind quintet, with saxophones giving a shap tang to the textures. It has gradually built up a repertoire of arrangements, all except the bassoonist doubling on their families of instruments to create a varied sound palate.

This famous and popular work has been performed and recorded in many arrangments, several of them reviewed by Musical Pointers. Calefax's version is one of the most attractive, the contrasts in timbres making the counterpoint easy to follow.

Better than a verbal description of the delights in waiting, listen to Variation 1 taken from Goldberg Variation Highlights - www.calefax.com and then see an amazing balletic version of the Goldbergs with Calefax on stage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCbBIHdWxy8.

Calefax's commercial recording of the Goldbergs has not yet been released*, but this BBCR3 transmission can be heard until the end of next week on BBCR3 Listen Again.

We have been provided with a set of this great ensemble's CDs, illustrating their development over the last fifteen years or so. Bach's Art of Fugue, Rameau, Debussy & Ravel; each one is a delight, culminating with the mind boggling achievement of bringing to concert life Nancarrow's dizzyingly complex Studies for Player Piano.

Repeating what I wrote when reviewing that landmark disc: A moving picture is better than a hundred words, so see these marvellous players in an immaculate rendering of Nancarrow's Study no 3 on YouTube.

Follow my links and enjoy !

Peter Grahame Woolf

La Spagna

Anon Suite from Libre Vermell (arr. Oliver Boekhoorn)
José Sánchez-Verdú Libro de Glosas
Boccherini String Quintet in D Op. 50 No. 2 ‘Fandango’ (arr. Ivar Berix)
Ravel Rapsodie espagnole (arr. Raaf Hekkema)
+ encores

Calefax Reed Quintet

Wigmore Hall 14 February 2011

Back recently from touring in USA, Calefax was warmly welcomed at Wigmore Hall by an audience, many of whom had come to hear their memorable Goldberg Variations in 2009. Today we had multi-instrumental arrangements (virtual recompositions) from 13th to 20th C. Their Ravel suite really needs renaming to avoid confusion; it consisted of 3 movements only of his Rapsodie espagnole plus the Alborado del gracioso. The orchestral reductions are fine, but the Alborado, although it makes for a lively conclusion, doesn't equate with the magic of Ravel's original piano writing.

Of particular interest was the forty-year old Spanish composer José Sánchez-Verdú's "intertextuality" take on the 16th C Diego Ortiz's Trattado de glosas, with some fascinating (quiet) extended techniques.

You can hear it on Calefax's most recent CD Libro de Glosas, but be warned, it is only 48 mins long and totally lacks the liner notes one would have expected to find enclosed.

Better to catch this marvellous Wigmore Hall concert repeat, BBC R3 on Saturday, or else on BBC iPlayer Listen Again for seven days... Their folk-tunes encores featured a deafening tible - a Catalonian oboe with a metal bell - its stridency enhanced by a piccolo-saxophone !

Calefax programmes are best taken as a live show. Meanwhile see on YouTube a good introduction to their 25 years together as an ensemble, and hope for a DVD to celebrate their remarkable achievement.

Calefax now has a London agent, Lomonaco Artists, so perhaps we will be seeing them more often, say at Kings Place and Café Oto?

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. This is an age of arrangements, so a preview tip about a new recording of one of the first, the Bach/Webern Ricercar from the Musical Offering: Naxos 8.55753.

Well worth purchasing at Naxo's bargain price for that + his 5 Movements, Op. 5 (arr. for string orchestra), 5 Pieces for orchestra, Op. 10, and the Variations for Orchestra, Op. 30. But the greater part of this well packed disc is devoted to new recordings of vocal and choral works, which I shall not be reviewing until the texts are on the Naxos website, as promised...1 PGW

JSBach/Hekkema Goldberg Variations

Calefax (DVD intro + CD + full score)

Rioja Records

*Nearly three years on, Calefax's recording of Raaf Hekkema's arrangement of the Goldberg Variations has now been released - and it has been worth the long wait.

It is a masterly production, the music superbly played and recorded. For a listener, the intricacies of Bach's variations will never have been made clearer, and there are many moments of delight to savour. In the accompanying video demonstrations, Raaf demonstrates inversions and crossings of lines, far easier to appreciate with separate instruments of contrasting timbres.

There is also a .pdf of the full score of his arrangement ("copyleft" i.e. free to all, instead of copyright) has been made readily available so as to help popularise the "reed quintet" as a chamber group worldwide [Calefax almost made the reed quintet seem the best musical format on the planet The Times].

Hekkema's arrangement was designed to be "novel, as diverse and diverting as could be", and with doubling twice five instruments are utilised.

The Goldberg Variations have fascinated throughout the centuries since JS Bach composed them (the familiar story of their origin is apocryphal).

They have spawned many interpretations and versions, and this for reed quintet will take its place alongside, for example, Daniel Sullivan's for cathedral organ, admired by Steven Devine, a harpsichordist and MusicalPointers reviewer whose own recording of the Goldbergs is high on lists of its best recordings.

Peter Grahame Woolf (March 2012)