Goldberg Variations Variations (Ensemble Tactus Edition)

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

Here’s the French ensemble Tactus—which employs a fancy font for its corporate image that for the longest time had me read and think “Ensemble Cactus”. That’s a pity because I had a pun in my pocket about their offering the Goldberg Variations in an unusual, rather “prickly” arrangement. Still, it must be mentioned sooner or later—so better now—that in the Tactus ensemble we are dealing with a marimba ensemble. Not an ensemble with marimbas, mind you, but an ensemble made up of them—or three marimbas and, for variety, two vibraphones, and six performers to operate them.

One’s first instinct is of course to exclaim “Dear God, why?!” This was also my second response, after unwrapping the CD package and inspecting the picture on the back showing five such instruments. But duty calls and I don’t shirk it; we listen so you don’t have to. And what do you know, by the Second Variation, listening while out and about, I found myself positively shimmying down an escalator. The vibraphones might have something to do with it, because they add (as per the un-ironic liner notes!) “brilliant, resonant timbres [that really] widen the sound space.” The only thing that might still further explore the sound space could be more cowbell.

Sure, there are moments when the casual listener in me might claim that the effect is rather one of throwing pebbles down a tuned staircase. But even so, is that such a bad thing? I remember a childhood toy where you let a marble roll down slanted, consecutive chutes and the last steps were a little metal xylophone across which said marble(s) rolled and rung. Reminds me a bit of that, so good enough for nostalgia, anyway. Not the stuff for everyday listening, but the right scratch to mend the occasional marimba itch.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Piano: Koroliov (Haenssler); Perahia (Sony), Harpsichord: Hantaï (Opus 111, Mirare); Schornsheim (Capriccio), Transcriptions for Piano: Piano Duo Tal & Groethuysen (Sony); Barto (Capriccio), Other transcriptions: Rachlin, Imai & Maisky (DG); Anzellotti (Winter & Winter); Labadie (ATMA)

    Ensemble Tactus

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