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GRAMOPHONE (02/2017)
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Reviewer:  Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood

Yes, it’s that Goldberg, he of the Variations: the same one whose service as court musician to insomniac Count Keyserlingk included incessant night shifts playing Bach’s newly minted keyboard set. Whatever the veracity of this posthumously related tale, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is ‘the Variations’ in no meaningful sense. These chamber pieces of a young possible-pupil of Bach are certainly skilful and occasionally quixotic, but essentially generic examples of mid-18th-century practice. Most unusual is Goldberg’s instinct for harmonic theatricality; the G minor Sonata even hints at something Zelenkalike, Bohemian flights checked only by a decidedly didactic contrapuntal conscience, and curiously unadventurous instrumental writing. The more one listens, the more one hears the slightly disorientating and dogmatically eccentric world of WF Bach.

The performances from Rebel under Jörg-Michael Schwarz are nothing if not committed (Goldberg’s taut allegros are certainly intense affairs), with the violins quickly settling as natural sparring partners, and always solidly underpinned by the fleet-of-foot continuo. Yet it’s all pretty unyielding in uniformity of articulation and dynamic. High positions tend towards sharpness and, alongside an insistent exaggeration of conceits from movement to movement, this can make for wearing listening. Mollifying contrasts – which the dour A minor Sonata cries out for – are simply not part of Rebel’s armoury; the finest period players would seek out poetic sensibility from the obsessive rigour and exhibitionism of a composer described contemporaneously (and not surprisingly on this hearing) as ‘melancholic and stubborn’. Nevertheless, for all its earnestness, Rebel have successfully extended our awareness of a household name to a musician with his own legacy, but one who never made the age of 30.

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