The Art of Instrumentation: Homage to Glenn Gould – review

Kremerata Baltica/Kremer

The release of this collection has clearly been timed to coincide with what would have been Glenn Gould's 80th birthday on 25 September and the 20th anniversary of his death on 4 October. But its origins go back several years to a chamber-music festival in Kronberg, Germany, where Gidon Kremer and his string orchestra Kremerata Baltica were artists in residence in 2010. Kremer decided to put Bach's music at the heart of their residency and commissioned a double tribute, asking a range of composers to make string-orchestra arrangements of pieces that were part of Gould's repertory. All but one of the 11 composers involved – the Australian Carl Vine – are from eastern Europe, especially from the countries of the former Soviet Union, and while some, such as Valentin Silvestrov, Alexander Raskatov and Giya Kancheli, are well-known names, many of the others will be much less familiar.

None of the pieces is substantial – the longest lasts less than eight minutes, several are less than half as long – yet they vary enormously in their approach to Bach's originals, as no doubt Kremer hoped. Some, such as Raskatov's version of the D minor Prelude and Fugue from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Raminta Serksnyte's reworking of the A minor Prelude and Fugue from the second book for a Brandenburg Concerto-like lineup of flute, oboe, harpsichord and strings, are straightforward expansions; others, like Vine's and Victoria Vita Poleva's, gild the originals just that little bit more. In Kancheli's Bridges to Bach, quotations from Bach become found objects in musical textures that are very much his own, while Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer takes the tribute to Gould one stage further by combining a number of the Goldberg Variations with quotations from another of the pianist's favourite composers, Schoenberg, introducing fragments of the Op 19 piano pieces and Op 47 violin-and-piano Fantasy. It could all seem supremely tacky and self-indulgent, and some of the tracks certainly are, but the best of the arrangements are extremely skilful and seriously musical, and Kremer and his superb young orchestra give them the respectful attention they deserve.

• This article was corrected on 5 October 2012 because the Ukrainian composer and pianist Valentin Silvestrov was misnamed as Vladimir Silvestrov.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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