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Fanfare Magazine: 41:6 (07-08/2018) 
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Code-barres / Barcode : 3614977675290

Reviewer: James V. Maiello

Bach’s keyboard music lends itself well to arrangement and reworking, but Concerto Italiano seem to have upped the ante with this latest recording, a potpourri of variation forms arranged for Baroque orchestra. In the opening Passacaglia in D Minor originally for pedal harpsichord (in C Minor), Alessandrini’s arrangement is an intelligent, idiomatic one and the players are in fine form. By mapping each voice directly to a string instrument without adding a continuo part, Alessandrini allows for a homogeneity that alludes to the harpsichord but with all the added flexibility of the strings. The Aria variata alla maniera italiana in G Minor is reconstituted for solo violin and continuo here, with Nicholas Robinson taking the solo part. He dispatches the theme and each of the 10 short variations with effortless panache, sailing through figurations one moment and delivering mournful lyricism the next. A canzona for organ appears next in a four-part string transcription. As in the Passacaglia, the strings provide shape, ebb, and flow in ways the organ simply cannot.

The lion’s share of the disc, however, is reserved for the Goldberg Variations. Alessandrini himself opens with harpsichord alone with a sensitively ornamented reading of the aria theme, alternating with the strings. For the variations, he mixes and matches chamber configurations. Even the relatively pedestrian Variation 3, a canon for three voices, turns into something special here, with tastefully contoured violin lines over the cello and harpsichord. Concerto Italiano’s typically vibrant playing is ideal for variations like the Fughetta, in which even the continuo seems to take flight. Alessandrini and the players commit wholeheartedly to exaggerated notes inégales and dramatic flourishes of French ouverture in Variation 16, and the result is wonderfully dramatic. The Quodlibet is unsentimental, fast but still a touch heavy, while the closing aria offers a sort of mirror image of the opening one, beginning with strings and moving on to solo harpsichord. These are masterful reworkings of Bach’s original material, so idiomatic that it is easy to imagine Bach reusing his keyboard works in the exact same manner. That Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano are so fluent in these styles only makes the arrangements sound more natural. This is surely one of the best instrumental arrangements of the Goldberg Variations available, and the other treasures on the disc make it doubly desirable.

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