Like so many other classical music fans, violinist Aaron Berofsky says he grew up listening to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And like so many other classical music fans, the full-time U-M School of Music professor and part-time Ann Arbor Symphony concertmaster freely admits he loved the piece.

Who wouldn’t? With a sublimely simple aria at its start, a simply sublime da capo at its close, and thirty variations in its middle expressing the gamut of human emotion in music of crystalline clarity and transcendent lucidity, the work is absolutely irresistible. But because Bach wrote it for solo keyboard, it’s also a work accessible only to those musicians who play the piano, harpsichord, or clavichord — and string players like Berofsky were simply out of luck.

Yet on Sunday, January 27, as part of a U-M Michigan Chamber Players concert at Britton Recital Hall, Berofsky, violist Kathryn Votapek (Berofsky’s wife), and cellist Richard Aaron will play Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a version for string trio. Soviet violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky wrote the transcription in 1984 and made the premiere recording, with violist Gérard Caussé and cellist Misha Maisky, for Orfeo shortly thereafter. Berofsky heard that recording — and fell in love all over again. This time, however, his love could be reciprocated.

“I played the transcription once before with the Chester Quartet,” says Berofsky. “We string players have very little Bach chamber music, and it was an incredible experience to be inside the piece, inside its lines and counterpoint and canons. The transcription adheres pretty strictly to the original, and everything is identical — even the trills and mordents are exactly the same.

“The biggest difference,” he continues, “is that a string trio is less intimate than a pianist. When it’s a trio, it’s more conversational, with more give and take between the instruments. Plus, of course, there’s the sustaining quality that string instruments have, their ability to hold a line, that makes the transcription a really different musical experience — not a better or worse experience, a different experience.”

That experience will be available in Ann Arbor for the first time with this show — the transcription has never been performed here before. “I hesitate to say it adds anything to the original for fear of offending a keyboard player,” jokes Berofsky. “What we’ll add will be the joy and pleasure we bring to it.”

Also on the program are baritone Daniel Washington and pianist Arthur Greene, who perform Mussorgsky’s bleakly magnificent memento mori Songs and Dances of Death.

[Review published January 2008]