Trevor Pinnock and RAM - Bach: Goldberg Variations - American Record Guide

Few composers have been subjected to more arrangements and orchestrations than Bach. Many of these have worked out extremely well, but a few have not—owing mostly to choice of instruments. In this case we have a small string ensemble with four woodwind players—students from the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory, Toronto—for a grand total of 19 players. Koffler (1896-1944) obviously knew what he was doing when he produced this arrangement in 1938. It is kaleidoscopic in color and scored with a genius that does not violate the music—indeed I doubt if the master himself could have done a better job. Pinnock, known for his devotion to early music, has turned up a splendid alternative to the composer’s original keyboard work that works just about perfectly. While some tempos allow us to luxuriate a little more in the composer’s richly expressed ideas, it is difficult to think of anyone disliking what is heard here. I’d even extend my welcome and say I absolutely love this new dimension of Goldberg listening. The recording was made at the Britten Studio, Snape Maltings and is superb in delineating every strand of the scoring. The fine notes even inform us of Koffler’s reversing the order for variations 6 and 7 and give a portrait of another Jewish genius who was victimized at the hands of the Nazis. Also most lovable is the choice of the cover illustration “Shtetl” by Chara Kowalska, a Polish artist and contemporary of Koffler, who also met her fate with the Nazis. If you are still in doubt, let me point out that this arrangement is far less interventionist then the transcriptions made by Stokowski and others of the organ works. Do not under any circumstance miss this.

American Record Guide
26 April 2021