By George Pratt, in BBC Music Magazine
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 Here it is arranged for viols, which were already out of date in Bach’s time, though a set of sonatas and obbligato parts in his cantatas and St Matthew Passionconfirm his undying affection for the viola da gamba.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.