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Gilded Goldbergs

Robin Holloway Audio CD
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 20.28 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Dissipating our attention... Nov. 7 2003
Format:Audio CD
It is easy nowadays to buy and listen to professionally played and recorded classical compositions which are merely mediocre or stereotyped. It is less common to hear a recording which verges on being unlistenable to those who love the original, but that is what "Gilded Goldbergs" is. This version of Bach's masterpiece neither heightens nor extends the experience of it. The Goldberg Variations embody one of the signature dimensions of Bach's music: that at virtually every moment of the piece, the whole architecture is represented or signified. In a sense, all of Bach's music is a form of synecdoche, in which each part stands for the full creation. Metaphysically this echoes St. Augustine's famous statement about God: "He loves each of us, as if there were only one of us." So the structure of Bach's music is both supple and exacting; it crystallizes our attention, instead of dissipating it, like most modern media. But the essence of Bach is drowned in "Gilded Goldbergs", which doesn't so much interpret the original as exploit it, producing a kind of drive-by piano excursion that speeds up and slows down but goes nowhere in particular. Bach's music almost always manages to do two things at once: focus us on the microcosmic line, and enlarge our perception to embrace the macrocosmic purpose of music itself. "Gilded Goldbergs" does neither.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Holloway's Goldberg MetaVariations April 5 2003
By J Scott Morrison TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
What a creative idea: to write a variation on each of the Goldberg Variations! But that's not what Robin Holloway initially intended to do. He admits that he was so stumped at his own clumsy attempts to play the Goldbergs at his own piano that he had the idea to clarify the counterpoint, so entangled in the two-hand version, by recasting the more complex variations for two pianos. As he proceeded (and got willing partners to play them over with him) he and his partners had such fun that he got charged up to recast all the variations, even the ones which were not so complicated. (He was not aware that Joseph Rheinberger - Liechtenstein's only significant composer! - had made a two-piano version in the 1880s.) Over a period of about six years, and in hiatuses between his other more 'serious' composing chores, he added more and more meta-variations until he was finally finished in late 1997.
The variations written fairly early in this 'adventure,' (as Holloway terms it), do not wander far from their models; indeed, they could be considered transcriptions. But as the spirit of adventure and challenge spurred him on he began taking more and more daring liberties. Since he didn't write the meta-variations in order, the more sedate variations are interspersed amongst the more elaborate ones. Thus, the complete set has reassuringly old-fashioned 'raisins' spread throughout the wild rice pudding. And it makes for a satisfying meal.
There are some stylistic comments to be made. One recurring technique in the more liberal variations is a quirky shift of key, sometimes in mid-phrase, and sometimes the modulations raise the harmonic tension at that same time that one smiles at what sounds like the pianists going off the rails.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointing March 17 2003
Format:Audio CD
When I read the review of this record in "Gramophone" I was interested and excited. Wow! "Gilded" Goldbergs! Must be something like Liszt's Bach transcriptions times two, right? Unfortunately, wrong. What arrived was a very modern composition indeed, one at times of astonishing ugliness. This is a very 20th century composition, more chromed or aluminum Goldbergs than gilded. It's Bach as seen through Schoenberg, not Liszt or Busoni. I admit I'm guilty of bringing preconceptions to a work of art, but I was disappointed with this composition. In any case, this is not a work to which I'll return with much eagerness. Maybe other listeners can convince me to try again.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holloway's Goldberg MetaVariations April 5 2003
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
What a creative idea: to write a variation on each of the Goldberg Variations! But that's not what Robin Holloway initially intended to do. He admits that he was so stumped at his own clumsy attempts to play the Goldbergs at his own piano that he had the idea to clarify the counterpoint, so entangled in the two-hand version, by recasting the more complex variations for two pianos. As he proceeded (and got willing partners to play them over with him) he and his partners had such fun that he got charged up to recast all the variations, even the ones which were not so complicated. (He was not aware that Joseph Rheinberger - Liechtenstein's only significant composer - had made a two-piano version in the 1880s.) Over a period of about six years, and in hiatuses between his other more `serious' composing chores, he added more and more meta-variations until he was finally finished in late 1997.

The variations written fairly early in this 'adventure,' (as Holloway terms it), do not wander far from their models; indeed, they could be considered transcriptions. But as the spirit of adventure and challenge spurred him on he began taking more and more daring liberties. Since he didn't write the meta-variations in order, the more sedate variations are interspersed amongst the more elaborate ones. Thus, the complete set has reassuringly old-fashioned 'raisins' spread throughout the wild rice pudding. And it makes for a satisfying meal.

There are some stylistic comments to be made. One recurring technique in the more liberal variations is a quirky shift of key, sometimes in mid-phrase, and sometimes the modulations raise the harmonic tension at that same time that one smiles at what sounds like the pianists going off the rails. Indeed, by the end of 'Gilded Goldbergs' Holloway has his pianists playing in all twelve major keys and dipping into some minor keys as well. One can imagine Charles Ives (and his inventive band-master father, who taught this trick to Charlie) smiling in approval at Variation 9 (canon at the third) which has the second piano come in after the first statement by echoing the first piano in a completely different key; the two tonal layers coexist peacefully (and beautifully) to the end of the variation.

Bach's two somber and related variations, No. 13 and No. 25, are given especial care in Holloway's recomposition. No. 13 (the longest of Holloway's variations) is a double variation that juxtaposes Ravelian bell-sounds with a dark-hued Dowland lute-song. No. 25, Bach's so-called 'black pearl,' is cut up into sections and scrambled, as well as run through a number of different keys. Sounds awful, I know, but in fact it is as gorgeous as it is surprising.

Other high points: Variation 16 (the French 'Ouverture'), with its double-dotting, becomes an homage to, of all things, the piano-player 'études of Conlon Nancarrow. Variation 18 (canon at the sixth) is an extension of the harmony of the sixth into a pointillistic dreamscape. Variation 17 borrows stylistic gestures from three Hungarians: Bartó'k, Kurt'ág, and most prominently, Ligeti, before it melts into a Romanian 'folk-lament' by Enescu.

This work is a real jeu d'esprit and nowhere is this more evident in the good-humored Variation 19 (Bach's L'ändler variation). In 4' minutes Holloway takes us through the history of Germanic music written in 3/4 time, from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to Schumann, Wagner (the 'Parsifal' Flower-Maidens make an appearance), Brahms, Mahler, Strauss's Rosenkavalier, and finally Hindemith. Whew!

I will admit that I [enjoy] polystylistic variations - I love Rochberg's `Caprice Variations,' Tsontakis's `Ghost Variations,' Rzewski's `Variations on "The People United Will Never Be Defeated' - at least partly because they are a way current composers can express their love and respect for composers of the past. There is an article at a J. S. Bach website that looks down its blue nose at Holloway's current `meta-variations.' But it is evident to me that Holloway is not trashing Bach, but honoring him, and I am convinced that Bach would smile and give Holloway full marks for his efforts.

The two pianists recorded here - Jennifer Micallef and Glen Inanga - do a fabulous job in this performance. They reportedly have played it in recital many times, and that shows. Hyperion gives us its usual clear and true recorded piano sound.

This issue is a triumph!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you love Uri Caine, you'll like this March 25 2005
By RICHARD THOMAS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
What a breath of fresh air this recording is...it's fun, interesting, listenable, and well-played. I'm no classical fanatic, but I own at least 5 piano versions of the Goldbergs already, plus 2 string quartet versions, and one harpsichord. And I love'em all, but enough! Listening to this is like finally breaking through to the level of playfullness that the word "variations" can imply. Bach's a genius...granted. But being playful with Bach's music can also be highly entertaining and enlightening. The more you know the original, the more you will enjoy this. It's not supposed to be yet another nuanced reading of the original...so phooey to those other reviewers that can't use their imagination enough to enjoy both apples and oranges. If you're adventurous, love piano music, love Bach, and are friendly to the idea of exploration, noodling, and improvising, you'll get many happy replays from this album. Recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad I bought it, ja, ja. May 21 2013
By Ronald Haak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I get a big kick out of this album. It uses the original score very respectfully to give us the grounds for cavorting around and murmuring "w-o-o-o, I didn't look for THAT to be in there!" while it lightens our steps around the house. J. Scott Morrison's review develops the respectability of the endeavor, but I don't need persuading. Simple listening wins me over. Lots of originality and high spirits. And the 2nd CD is free, so it's not a terribly big gamble for breaking into responsibly charted new territory, is it?
5 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointing March 17 2003
By Stanley Hauer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
When I read the review of this record in "Gramophone" I was interested and excited. Wow! "Gilded" Goldbergs! Must be something like Liszt's Bach transcriptions times two, right? Unfortunately, wrong. What arrived was a very modern composition indeed, one at times of astonishing ugliness. This is a very 20th century composition, more chromed or aluminum Goldbergs than gilded. It's Bach as seen through Schoenberg, not Liszt or Busoni. I admit I'm guilty of bringing preconceptions to a work of art, but I was disappointed with this composition. In any case, this is not a work to which I'll return with much eagerness. Maybe other listeners can convince me to try again.
5 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dissipating our attention... Nov. 7 2003
By Jack DuVall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
It is easy nowadays to buy and listen to professionally played and recorded classical compositions which are merely mediocre or stereotyped. It is less common to hear a recording which verges on being unlistenable to those who love the original, but that is what "Gilded Goldbergs" is. This version of Bach's masterpiece neither heightens nor extends the experience of it. The Goldberg Variations embody one of the signature dimensions of Bach's music: that at virtually every moment of the piece, the whole architecture is represented or signified. In a sense, all of Bach's music is a form of synecdoche, in which each part stands for the full creation. Metaphysically this echoes St. Augustine's famous statement about God: "He loves each of us, as if there were only one of us." So the structure of Bach's music is both supple and exacting; it crystallizes our attention, instead of dissipating it, like most modern media. But the essence of Bach is drowned in "Gilded Goldbergs", which doesn't so much interpret the original as exploit it, producing a kind of drive-by piano excursion that speeds up and slows down but goes nowhere in particular. Bach's music almost always manages to do two things at once: focus us on the microcosmic line, and enlarge our perception to embrace the macrocosmic purpose of music itself. "Gilded Goldbergs" does neither.
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