Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756)
Beyond the Variations
Sonata in B flat major, DürG 10 [9:40]
Sonata in G minor, DürG 12 [12:05]
Sonata in C minor, DürG 14 [12:44]
Sonata in A minor, DürG 11 [13:14]
Sonata in C major, DürG 13 [11:46]
Rebel/Jörg-Michael Schwarz
rec. 4-7 January 2014, Wilton Presbyterian Church, Wilton, California.
BRIDGE RECORDS 9478 [59:30]

As the booklet notes for this release begin, “Goldberg might just be the most famous composer whose music remains largely unheard.” There are very few releases - perhaps three including this one - to be dedicated entirely to his works. The story of Goldberg’s association with J.S. Bach’s much loved Goldberg Variations is of course further covered in the booklet. The idea that the Count Kaiserling’s insomnia being soothed by Goldberg’s playing of Bach’s variations has been debunked by some as the player would have been a mere 14 in 1741, but this is further un-debunked by his reputation as a virtuoso “Notenfresser.” One is also invited to remember how young little Mozart was, when he was touring Europe as a keyboard genius. Just because most of today’s teenagers have been hypnotised by their smartphones doesn’t mean the 18th century was also lacking in junior precociousness.

Goldberg himself was apparently a “melancholic and stubborn eccentric”, who is said to have destroyed his own scores, when they didn’t meet his exacting standards, and he was clearly unwilling to drift into the fashionable rococo or galant styles that were taking over by the mid-18th century. These Sonatas are genuine chamber music works, with significant parts for each instrument. The most famous Sonata in C minor DüR 14 adds a viola to the two violins and basso continuo to create an almost orchestral feel, the intricacy of the counterpoint in the second movement Allegro being quite breathtaking, but the work itself is a delight from beginning to end.

Right from the outset with this programme you will hear a composer, who refuses to be lazy with his harmonies, always throwing in little unexpected twists and chromatic spice to wake up the mind and keep the listener engaged. Baroque convention is followed in the nature of the dance movements, the development of fugues and other familiar structures, but the actual content of each movement is rich in ideas and creative originality. As John Moran sums it up in his booklet notes, “he remained true to baroque idioms, working within an existing set of rules while exploiting loopholes.”

Ensemble Rebel has produced some very fine recordings for the Bridge label, including Telemann’s Double Concerti for Winds & Strings (review). Beautifully recorded, this is another superb addition to their catalogue. Anyone with an affinity for baroque music and looking for some unjustly neglected repertoire should acquire this recording post-haste.

Dominy Clements

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