Holloway: Gilded Goldbergs

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Holloway
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Gilded Goldbergs
PERFORMER: Micallef-Inanga Piano Duo
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67360
There’s a saying of Martin Luther’s which translates (loosely) as, ‘If you’re going to sin, there’s no point in doing it half-heartedly’. Somewhere in the process of recomposing Bach’s Goldberg Variations for two pianos the same thought seems to have struck Robin Holloway – or as he puts it, ‘Go for the gilding and forget the guilt!’. Fine, and in the movements where Holloway does seem to have ditched all canons of academic good taste the results can be rather wonderful – as in the brooding ‘Homage to Dowland’ (Var. 13), the brittle Bach-meets-Tippett counterpoint of Var. 23, or the delicately weird movement Holloway calls ‘Hungarian cymbalom’ (Var. 17), itself the perfect foil to the preceding French-Overture-on-absinthe. Elsewhere, though, I wish Holloway had been a bit more sinful – that if he couldn’t find any gold leaf, he could at least have been more generous with the tinsel. His versions of Bach’s first three variations don’t add much more than weight: if there’s wit or analytical insight in the reworking it passed me by.

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Perhaps the problem is partly the performance. Jennifer Micallef and Glen Inanga are a more than polished duo, but there isn’t much sense of discovery or subversive fun in the playing. And the recordings are dullish, especially on the first disc, which for some reason I had to turn up louder than the second. Disappointing. Stephen Johnson