Rearranged Variations offers nothing new

Fretwork’s Richard Boothby arranges Bach’s Goldberg Variations for instruments which predate it, but it still feels clichéd

Composer: Bach
Repertoire:  Goldberg Variations (arr Boothby)
Artists: Fretwork
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Chamber
Label: Harmonia Mundi HMU907560

The Music: Boothby doctors the instruments he's chosen to suit, lowering the bass string here, a whole treble part there. With all repeats the music lasts 90 minutes on two CDs, the second disc beginning appropriately with the French Overture at Variation 16.

The Performance: The stately re-start on disc two lacks weight, though its running, triple-time allegro has vivid clarity. The same is true of the bouncing chords of No.29, which sound tinny. The lightly resonant instruments suit the counterpoint, especially in the canons every third movement. Their tone is reedy, almost nasal, changing character in swelling long notes, an effect beyond keyboards. Yet the consort lacks the speed of fingers on keys and Variation 1, usually thrilling, is disappointing. The promised humour of the Quodlibet is nowhere apparent and the performance concludes forlornly.

The Verdict: Viol consort appeal will attract some listeners and the variegated tonal colours work in the counterpoint. However, performances of the Goldberg Variations are rapidly becoming a cliché and Fretwork do too little to overcome this barrier.

Want More? Less ubiquitous is Bach’s Art of Fugue, which Fretwork performs effectively (Harmonia Mundi, HMU 907296).