Rebel Takes Goldberg Beyond the Variations

There here are two things I can count on with a Rebel release. First, it won’t be the usual early music fare. Second, it will have performances that command my attention. “Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Beyond the Variations” runs true to form.

There’s a story behind that title. Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is indeed the Goldberg of Bach’s Aria with 30 Variations, BWV 998. While the story of Goldberg’s involvement with the creation and performance of the “Goldberg” Variations might be questionable, scholars agree there’s a strong connection between Goldberg and Bach.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was a virtuoso keyboardist as well as a composer (and only 14 when Bach composed the variations). He did study with JS Bach, and later his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. Like that of W.F. Bach, Goldberg’s music looks back to the baroque rather than forward to the classical.

Especially impressive in this set of sonatas is Goldberg’s use of counterpoint — he learned well from his mentors. And while his style resembles that of J.S. Bach, it’s not imitative. Goldberg’s melodies have a different and sometimes simpler shape to them than Bach’s.

Rebel infuses these works with energy, delivering enthusiastic performances. It’s difficult to describe. Perhaps it was the lightness of the basso continuo playing or the way the violins dug into the trills and mordants — I can’t say precisely. But I did get the impression that these musicians were having fun with this music. And that made for a pleasurable listening experience.

There are two things I can count on with a Rebel release. They were both present in this release.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Beyond the Variations
Chamber Music for Strings and Basso Continuo
Rebel; Jörg-Michael Schwarz, conductor
Bridge Records 9478

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