Bach: Goldberg Variations



Bach: Goldberg Variations

Released on 1 November 2011

An unusually stately opening Aria begins a fascinating viol consort arrangement of this oft-recorded work. While fans of the young Gould and his fleeter stablemates should look elsewhere, this reviewer’s initial skepticism soon vanished. Cogent, moving and superbly recorded, it is perhaps a ‘meditation on’ rather than an ‘arrangement of’ the Goldbergs.

Guy Weatherall, Classical Music Magazine

Not long ago the idea of arranging the “Goldberg” Variations for an ensemble seemed outlandish, but Richard Boothby, who made this lively edition for Fretwork, the British viol consort (of which he is a member), points out that even a piano version is an arrangement. Mr. Boothby’s thoughtful scoring plays to Fretwork’s considerable strengths, but its principal joy is a transparency that lets every strand of counterpoint ring out.

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times

Bach’s Goldberg Variations has offered ‘an indestructible temptation to transcribers over the years’, wrote Paul Riley in his November 2011 review of a string trio version of the harpsichord original. Here it is arranged for viols, which were already out of date in Bach’s time, though a set of sonatas and obbligato parts in his cantatas and St Matthew Passion confirm his undying affection for the viola da gamba.

Boothby has transcribed the 30 variations for the six viols of Fretwork. When he simply transfers lines from harpsichord unaltered, it’s particularly effective, clarifying the counterpoint of the fughetta (No. 10) and where hands cross between the two manuals of the harpsichord (No. 8).

For the tenor viols to have a fair share of the action, Boothby drops some of the upper lines down an octave: the minor Adagio (No. 25) wanders without obvious musical reason, from low register to Bach’s original and back. Elsewhere, ideas are splendidly imaginative: the opening Aria’s bleak melody sounds above a sparse pizzicato, and the measured trills of No. 28’s inner parts tremble. No one can be unaffected after experiencing these new perspectives.

George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine

This is Fretwork’s first recording to be released since the tragic passing of founder-member Richard Campbell (who was not involved in this project). This arrangement of the Goldberg Variations for viols in up to six parts is the brainchild of another founder member, Richard Boothby, who provides a short booklet-note that is erudite, friendly and humble (there is also an illuminating commentary on the music written by John Butt). Manifold imaginative reinventions of Bach’s music modernise scorings and textures but Boothby’s transcriptions are an unusual yet fascinating advocacy for a consort of viols that Bach would have considered archaic.

A sequel of sorts to Fretwork’s album ‘Alio modo’ (10/05) that rearranged a miscellaneous selection of Bach’s keyboard works, there is nothing disloyal about these intoxicating performances. There are plenty of variations in which the sonority of the viols does not sound far removed from the much older polyphonic consort repertoire in which Fretwork made its name, although it is also striking how many valuable musical details are yielded by the consort’s conversational playing; the supreme quality of musical understanding and listening between the six players is a joy to hear. As the spirit of the music dictates, Fretwork produces playing of astonishing imagination (e.g. use of lively pizzicato for arpeggiated passages in Var. 20), dexterity (beautifully sustained trills during Var. 28) or intense melancholy (the adagio of Var. 25). With such a feast on offer, harpsichords never crossed my heretical mind.

David Vickers, The Gramophone



Catalogue number: Harmonia Mundi HMU 907560






Date: March 10, 2013