Bach’s protean Goldberg Variations have been recorded hundreds of times, on many different instruments, in a variety of arrangements, and with wildly diverse notions of fidelity to the original. This year alone I’ve encountered an orchestration that interleaves the variations with 11 new works; a version for violin, cello and guitar; and an airily decorated piano version by Hannes Minaar that appends a single new piece by Daan Maneke as a bonus.
Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl's Gold.Berg.Werk (the title translates as both Gold.Mountain.Work and Goldmine) was originally conceived around Dmitry Sitkovetsky's 1980s arrangement for string trio. This latest version has Essl's electronic meditations separating his culled (from 30 to 20) and reordered take on the variations with Xenia Pestova Bennett on piano.
Bach vs Essl
The overall impression, strangely, is that there's too much Bach and not enough Essl. The links from Bach into echo-filled electronics, spatialised by Ed Bennett, work pretty seamlessly. But the returns to the original jar, as if the transitions into Essl's blurry synthetic world were cared about more than those in the other. There's nothing here of the sustained fantasy of Robin Holloway's Gilded Goldberg's for two pianos. But Gold.Berg.Werk does still suggest that there's an effective marriage of instruments and electronics waiting somewhere for the Goldbergs.