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Marco Salcito’s Guitar Goldbergs: Quietly Compelling

Jed Distler

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Unlike many Bach works adapted for guitar, the keyboard-specific intricacies of the Goldberg Variations do not easily lend themselves to six strings. In the late 1990s Kurt Rodarmer circumvented these limitations via overdubbing and using a custom-made guitar with an extended bass register. He also transposed the piece to D major, a key that lies more comfortably for guitar than the original G major. By contrast, József Eötvös’ contemporaneous solo transcription adhered to the original key and contained all of the music within a solo guitar’s six string range, albeit necessitating slower tempos, contrapuntal compromises, and frequent transpositions of lines up or down the octave.

Marco Salcito shares Eötvös’ essentially purist conception, although he is less shy to incorporate idiomatic flourishes and articulations that guitarists love, such as rolling chords, and sliding or bending into and between notes. He does this extensively when repeating each variation’s “A” and “B” sections, yet the fanciful embellishments enhance rather than obliterate Bach’s melodic lines. In addition, Salcito’s recasting of the scintillating cross-handed variations in more deliberate, guitar-oriented terms is not unlike watching rapid basketball moves played back in slow motion: you lose the dance but you gain the details.

A good example of this is Variation 26’s triplet figurations that ordinarily sprint up and down the keyboard. When slowed down, previously overlooked inner melodies emerge. Granted, the combination of the guitar’s limited dynamic range, Salcito’s leisurely pace, and his observance of all repeats save for the Aria da capo might make this nearly two-hour-long interpretation seem interminable over the course of a single hearing. Yet Salcito’s quiet, compelling mastery and eloquent musicianship, together with Dynamic’s intimate, full-bodied engineering, will win over guitar enthusiasts, and perhaps seduce a few Bach fans as well.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Goldberg Variations on Harpsichord: Rousset (Decca), Kipnis (EMI), Goldberg Variations on Piano: Perahia (Sony), Gould (Sony)

  • BACH, J.S.:
    Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (transcribed for guitar by Marco Salcito)

    Soloists: Marco Salcito (guitar)

  • Record Label: Dynamic - 7699 1 2
  • Medium: CD

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