J S Bach: Goldberg Variations - Peter Navarro-Alonso. © 2018 Dacapo Records

CD Spotlight

Distractingly Unusual

Peter Navarro-Alonso's Goldbergs re-invented,

'It's certainly clever, but I'm not sure what it gives us that we don't already have.'


According to this Dacapo CD's back cover, Danish composer Peter Navarro-Alonso (born 1973) has made a 'note-by-note reinvention of the original Goldberg Variations by J S Bach'. It goes on to state that 'It is merely through the very creative and extreme orchestration that the new composition gains its own life.' My response, as I began listening to the disc, is 'What life?'

From the very first notes I was disappointed. J S Bach's music is usually indestructable, but this 'recomposition' seemed merely to be distributing the notes amongst recorder, saxophone and various tuned percussion instruments, perhaps cleverly, and producing a kind of relentless and lugubrious Micky Mouse cartoon Goldbergs, but robbing the music, for me, of its transcendental nature.

Listen — J S Bach / Navarro-Alonso: Aria (Goldberg Variations)
(track 1, 0:01-0:37) © 2018 Dacapo Records :

But as the variations progress, Navarro-Alonso's version begins to get better.

Listen — J S Bach / Navarro-Alonso: Variation 14 (Goldberg Variations)
(track 15, 0:17-0:34) © 2018 Dacapo Records :

There is a wider contrast of styles, more imagination in the instrumental settings, and things began to take off ... although occasionally, especially in the last variation, it's all a bit crashy.

Listen — J S Bach / Navarro-Alonso: Variation 30 (Goldberg Variations)
(track 31, 1:26-2:01) © 2018 Dacapo Records :

At the very end, when the Aria returns, it's in a different, simpler, arrangement. This is effective, partly because of the contrast with what immediately preceded it.

Listen — J S Bach / Navarro-Alonso: Aria da capo (Goldberg Variations)
(track 32, 1:43-2:22) © 2018 Dacapo Records :

So - do I like it or not? Well no, not really. It's certainly clever, and the playing is faultless, but I'm not sure what it gives us that we don't already have. And I'm thinking not only of the hundreds of keyboard performances, but of other, more imaginative, esoteric arrangements, including the Uri Caine Ensemble's incredible Goldbergs from 2000 on Winter & Winter, reviewed here by Basil Ramsey, which really is a re-composition. What Navarro-Alonso gives us here is anchored exactly to Bach's notes, with distractingly unusual instrumentation, but still somehow a bit relentless, and without the poise of the original keyboard version.

Copyright © 11 January 2019 Keith Bramich,
London UK


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