As demonstrated in impressive previous releases, Reimaginings and Dido’s Lament, pianist, composer and arranger Joe Chindamo and violinist Zoë Black are more than capable of transcending their specialities of jazz and classical. Here they tackle one of the great masterworks, with Chindamo playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations while Black performs a solo violin part composed by Chindamo.
In some ways, I’m reminded of Schumann’s piano accompaniments to Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin; listeners may also recall James Strauss’s transcription for flute and harpsichord/piano. But this is very different. Chindamo doesn’t change a note of Bach’s original, while supplying a violin line that is highly improvisatory and decorative, like something any good violinist of Bach’s day could have extemporised (possibly with greater contrapuntal and harmonic daring).
That’s not meant to detract from the pleasures here. Not only is the playing by turns reflective and exuberant; certain of the variations gain considerably by Chindamo’s violinist enhancements. Variation 9’s canon is infused with a richer, sweeter atmosphere, while Variation 10’s Fughetta wriggles with delight in response to the violin’s ornate countermelody.
At other times, however, the results are less happy. For example, Variation 3’s canon suffers from the violin’s hyperactive assault on its clarity, while the fussy violin part takes all the majesty out of the Overture that opens the second half (Variation 16). Variation 27’s character is considerably altered through a similarly dominating violin part.