admirable and beautiful effort by Hungarian guitarist József Eötvös
(b.1962) is an essential investment for any Goldberg
Variations fan, or Bach worshipper.
Not only is the music faithfully (I think almost religiously) transcribed,
but the playing is of a very high order, extremely natural, inspiringly
Chopin for Guitar!
József Eötvös has released his latest CD of transcriptions,
made by himself, of Chopin's piano works. Included are the Nocturne
Op.9 No2, the Polonaise Op.40 No.1, the Etude Op.10 No.3, the
Feuille d'Album, and more! Click
here for more details!
you a CD distributor?
If yes - give these discs a try. Proper and widespread distribution
of these albums are not available, but their merits are many
If you live in Berkeley, California, this CD is available
from The Musical
Offering - Classical Record Shop & Café
my review of Kurt Rodarmer's multiple-guitar transcription (but
played alone, then mixed) of the Goldberg in an earlier review
- in that version, it can be said that Rodarmer is doing his best
to physically capture as much of the original keyboard music. Given,
as Rodarmer points out, the difficulty of playing a 10-fingered
keyboard work on a guitar with only one hand, it is already quite
a thing to transcribe the entire Goldberg for that instrument.
here, forced or inspired by the music, Eötvös' transcription distills
the purest essence of Bach and the Goldberg into a transciption
for solo guitar. And truly, I must say, the result is a work of
high art that not only does complete justice to but utterly refreshes
the music; it is a glorious effort worthy of the name of Johann
Eötvös' sense of the musical Bach line (here comes my interpretation,
Yeuk Fan) is very very satisfying, clear but never rigid or monochrome.
Let us say that the result you will hear on this disc is the so-many
lines of the keyboard original distilled into the lesser (in number)
lines of the guitar. The music becomes more essentialised, purer,
more concentrated because of this. Not that the original is in any
way excessive, but the solo guitar version is, as presented here,
like a poetic synopsis. From each line, the transcriber must select
the most "essential" bits and reform them to recreate the music,
but with less overall material.
is like, if Bach used four colours to paint a picture, now Eötvös
repaints the same picture with two colours. In theory, if a picture
is done with only two colours, the difference between the two is
the line between one colour and the other. This, expressed in music,
may perhaps be a crude visual expression of the Bach line. It is
not a thin black "line" per se, but the interaction of a number
of lines/colours to create a singular picture. Bach is of course
not the only composer who could write beautiful lines, but he is
also one of the most intricate and inspiring, like Baroque architecture.
you can thus distil the line, and still make the transcription beautiful
and faithful to the original, then the essence of the Bach line
has been successfully captured in greater concision (given that
Bach is already quite concise!). What more can I say for Mr Eötvös
except that the Goldberg Variations as he has transcribed
and performed here make the music sound like it was originally written
for guitar rather than the keyboard? Using less colours, he seems
to have actually made the picture even more beautiful.
After the heavenly Aria, listen to the joyous pace of Variation
1 (still my favourite), with its natural flow. There is not a hint
of rush, and an ample ring of sunny cheer and breezy delight, making
one want to get up and dance. From his gorgeous instrument, Eötvös
extracts a beautiful interplay of the upper and lower lines, combined
with the phrasal nuances, colours and nudges that mark the great
guitarists. The hands (and fingers!) often seem to dance with each
other - try Variation 3 - an effect much clearer on a single guitar.
is a seamless movement of moods as each track/Variation flows into
the next with only brief breathers. This arrangment, potentially
tiring to the listener or 'live' performer, only highlights the
organic flow of the Variations as they meld into each other like
clouds taking on different shapes. Even within Variation 16 (the
"overture"), the break between the two sections is achieved without
any sign of interruption. Or try Eötvös' gear-shift between Variations
19 and 20 - faultless. Most of the music has a sunny character,
but when placed alongside the moody variations (say 15 and 21, both
canons), the contrast can be very stark. Eötvös, Artistic Director
of the International Guitar Festival of Esztergom (Hungary), brings
out the melancholy impressively.
listening through the entire CD without touching any buttons, I
found the unity of Eötvös' Goldberg to be entirely mesmerizing.
Later, as I started to review in detail, skipping tracks here and
there, this became much less obvious. Point: if you want to appreciate
the art of Bach and Eötvös, let them paint the full picture without
József Eötvös (left) plays with a casual elegance which never indulges
in empty effect, as in Variations 3, 5 and 19, so appealing in their
grace of sound and flow. The ease and familiarity of his playing
extends even to the trills - often sounding more awkward on guitar
than keyboard, Eötvös' delivers these without breaking the fluidity
of the phrases (try Variation 10).
9 and 17 are fine examples of the Bach line in action - listen to
how Eötvös makes you follow the line, alternating between upper,
middle and lower registers - this is how one would sing the
Bach line. You do not merely follow, say, the soprano line, but
alternate between whichever line is dominant or most essential in
order to, with one voice, sing the whole tune. In this way, the
line is not continuous nor linear, and yet, despite its broken,
complex appearance, is traceable as a single line in its musical
is the constant gene which lives in every Variation, no matter how
each one looks or sounds like. I found Eötvös' reading of Variation
12 very heartening in the way he brings this vital personality of
the Aria from within the Variation. It sort of "reappears"
in the Variation, hinted here and there. It is like seeing the father
in the son.
a burst of light in Variation 14, the music is relaunched in Eötvös'
singing, scintillating guitar tone. I can't begin to describe the
number of ways he can change his guitar's tone-colours - first it
is sunny, then half-serious, half-mystifying, then full of innocent
The recording is natural and has just the right amount of bloom
to capture the reverberating guitar strings without obscuring the
melodic patterns. Expect also to hear Eötvös' sharp intakes of breaths
(a good sign, mind you). The brief notes deserve to be improved
to make this album even better.
final variation, the "quodlibet", has an expectant ring to it, half
a sense of satisfaction, half of finality. When it ends, it is only
the beginning again as the Aria returns. I think Rodarmer
captures more of the spirit of unwilling departure and sadness,
but like him, Eötvös captures the sense of a great journey completed.
But perhaps this is something already essentialised in the music.
The great, human Aria is the beginning and the end of the
Goldberg Variations, and this is the ultimate expression
of the Bach line: a circle - perfect beauty that never ends.
disc can be ordered on-line
from this József
Eötvös webpage featuring an introduction to this recording.
International distribution of this disc is not readily available;
and yet this is a superb disc that deserves great exposure - readers
and Goldberg fans, support it; distributors - help the man!
If you are in Berkeley, California, this CD is available from
The Musical Offering
- Classical Record Shop & Café (2430 Bancroft Way,
Berkeley, CA 94704 - visit the website for more contact details)
CHIA HAN-LEON is looking for
a cheap theorbo or archlute. He plans to learn a few troubadour
songs and go around serenading until the dark ages come back.
If you wish to
Add a Comment to this article, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
16.8.1998 © Chia Han-Leon
From: alex (email@example.com / Wednesday, November 10, 1999 at 22:25:52)
glad to see a review recognizing Joszef Eotvos' supreme effort, i have the cd and listen to it often, and from time to time, i would attempt to play variation 1 on my guitar.
i was looking for the inkpot archives for a review of his concert but did not find any, was wondering whether there was one, there should be one if what i read on the goldberg variations maniacs' homepage is true.
i had the fortune of attending Mr. Eotvos' meeting with singapore's guitar fraternity, watch him play up close and even try out his guitar.
it was truely an unforgettable experience
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