An audacious rethinking of a Baroque masterpiece bears musical fruit

Rachel Podger: Bach: Goldberg Variations Reimagined

The Strad Issue: January 2024

Description: An audacious rethinking of a Baroque masterpiece bears musical fruit

Musicians: Rachel Podger (violin) Chad Kelly (harpsichord) Brecon Baroque

Works: Bach: Goldberg Variations Reimagined 

Catalogue number: CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA44923

Conceived during lockdown and brought to fruition after much discussion with Rachel Podger, creative instrumentation and last-minute experimentation during the recording process, Chad Kelly’s ‘re-imagination’ transforms Bach’s work from its somewhat monochrome original for a two-manual harpsichord into one of glorious Technicolor, involving strings, flute, oboes, bassoon and harpsichord. It deftly captures the particular style, genre and mood of each variation and brings out the individual timbres and qualities of the period instruments employed, admirably highlighting Bach’s contrapuntal intentions. Segue groupings of variations assist with a sense of fluidity.

Podger’s contribution throughout is outstanding. She introduces the Aria’s melodic content over Kelly’s simple harpsichord accompaniment, featuring the passacaglia-like bass line that provides the variations’ foundation, and gives a heart-rending account of the mournful var.25. Other highlights include the Brandenburg-style variations (nos.8, 14 and 19), the tortured minor-mode canon in contrary motion (var.15), the French Ouverture (var.16) and the numerous passages featuring woodwind sonorities, most notably in vars.2, 7, 13, 18, 21 and 22.

Kelly provides imaginative continuo accompaniments, modifying his contribution in repeated sections, and finally enjoys some solo limelight in var.29. The light-hearted Quodlibet (var.30) flows straight into the Aria’s reprise, re-scored to present a final kaleidoscope of instrumental colour. The recording is exemplary.