Bach's Goldberg Variations

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,439
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48
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#1
Music written for an insomniac - a disaster, right? Do you write music to put him to sleep? Or to keep him entertained while he can't sleep???

The Goldberg Variations were written when Count Kaiserling told Johann Sebastian Bach that he might like some smooth and lively klavier pieces for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play to him during sleepless nights to cheer him up. Apparently, the Count liked these pieces so much that he presented Bach with a goblet filled with gold coins!

So, we have a sleepless Count to be grateful to for Bach's Goldberg Variations. After an aria (establishing the melody), there are 30 variations. The variations do not follow the melody of the aria, but uses its bass line and/or chord progression. These 30 variations are closed off by a return to the aria - the aria de capo.

I have also the pianist Glenn Gould to be grateful to as it was his 1955 recording debut that introduced me to the Goldberg Variations. It was the must-have piano recording when I was just beginning my audiophile habit. Then, I found Jacques Loussier's Jazzy interpretation. Unfortunately, I felt that while the first one showed off Gould's pianistic technique without much feeling, the second was full of feeling but quite far from the Count's "smooth and lively" request to Bach.

Gould re-recorded the Goldberg Variations in 1981, with an even more precise touch and restoring Bach's repeats and ornamentation for a much longer recording. Still unsatisfying to me. Two years after Gould's re-recording (and a year after his death), another pianist - Andras Schiff - recorded the Variations - again, to show off pianistic ability. (What is it with this piece of music.)

And..... finally..... my preferred interpretation - by Ito Ema recorded by Todd Garfinkle on MA Recordings. She brings an elegance to the performance that I thought was lacking in all the other interpretations I owned. Perhaps it's just my me, but this particular piece might be difficult to play and hence these men use the piece to show off their piano skills, is the wrong piece to be pianistic about. It needs a smooth lyrical flow and a sensitive yet assertive touch. Under Ema's fingers, I can imagine being the Count cheered up during sleepless nights.

The sonics on this recording is also exemplary (as with most MA Recordings titles). The pianist used her own 1903 Steinway & Sons Model D Patent Grand for the recording captured at The Harmony Hall in Japan. What's fabulous is that Todd made 2 different versions - the CD was digitally recorded using custom titanium capsule microphones; a second version was recorded onto 1/2-inch analog tape with B&K 4006 omnidirectional microphones. A high-rez version is available on a DVD-ROM and that is a 24bit/176.4kHz transfer off the analog tape.

At the recent 2014 Newport Show, I found Todd as usual selling his CDs and DVD-ROMS, but hidden behind him was a stack of LPs - his usual available Sera Una Noche. Hidden in that stack was the test pressing of this LP. Of course, I happily took it off his hands so that he wouldn't have to pack it up to bring home.

It's not available yet..... but drop him a line at his website so that you can reserve a copy of the LP. While you are waiting - you might as well pick up the CD; or the Gold CDR which was cut from the analog tape; or if you have the facilities to play high-rez files, get the DVD-ROM which has the original 24bit/176.4kHz transfer.

http://www.marecordings.com/main/pr...id=51&osCsid=b64bc794e5f1cd94c823a5a400a786a0

Ito Ema.jpg
 
Jul 1, 2010
8,677
2
0
#2
Classical has played a minor role in my life as a listener, but in my late teens/early 20s, i acquired a copy of the Goldberg Variations, performed, if memory serves, on harpsichord and chamber orchestra. I don't know now if it was a particularly good recording, arrangement or performance, but I loved it. To a young man deeply emmersed in prog, it seemed like the Goldberg Variations must be to Yes what Muddy Waters was to the Rolling Stones. A painfully flawed analogy in many ways, I'm sure, but I felt as if I had found the source.

Now I'm filled with nostalgia.

Tim
 

Ki Choi

Member Sponsor
May 13, 2010
754
7
18
Seattle WA area
#3
Thanks for your post Gary.

Goldberg Variations has to be one of my favorite piano music. I remember hearing Glenn Gould's 1981 recording for the first time in the same year at a friend's house who happened to be our college campus priest as well. I was struck with such an impact and said to Al, my friend, that I thought the man was possessed with all that mumbling in the recording. Of course I had to have it, and it was one of the few LPs I kept during my foolish rampage of trading in 10 mint LPs for one Perfect Sound Forever medium in those days... Then I discovered Murray Perahia's SACD recording of the Goldberg Variations in 2000. I thought it was one of the best Goldberg Variation recordings I have heard...and became my favorite version surpassing Gould's both recording versions until I acquired a DVD of the Glenn Gould's 1981 recording session of his actual performance.

It is hard to describe how a man can sit down adjust his piano chair and starts to play without any sheet music, without any mistakes, without looking up or checking till the end - other than to make his involuntary noise as if he is doing something fun that is illegal. It is an amazing video that never changed camera angle or had stops during his performance. It was one continuous take. So Glenn Gould's 1981 version recaptured its rightful place as my favorite Goldberg Variations.

Ki
 
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garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,439
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Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#4
Yes - the Goldberg Variations are one of my favorite solo piano pieces. I was never interested in other versions - like with an accompanying orchestra after hearing the Loussier jazz trio version.

Ki - Ms Ema's performance has what I thought to be the most elegant rendition. I think that a large part of it is that she did not use it to show off her piano skills, but performed it with heartfelt emotion. Usually, I don't like a lot of Japanese artists - especially jazz - as they are technically excellent but without the feeling. This one is exceptional in my mind.
 

edorr

WBF Founding Member
May 11, 2010
3,146
3
36
Smyrna, GA
#5
Usually, I don't like a lot of Japanese artists - especially jazz - as they are technically excellent but without the feeling. This one is exceptional in my mind.
Masabumi Kikuchi has to be one of the most emotionally intense piano players in Jazz though. Check out his work with tethered moon.
 

LL21

Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2010
10,935
143
63
#8
Fantastic thread, Gary. These are the ones I own (and truly enjoy) ranked in my own personal order of preference. This has to be one of my favourite classical pieces of all time:

- Glenn Gould 1981
- Rosalyn Tureck
- Jacques Loussier (Jazz)
- Mischa Maisky, Julian Rachlin and Nobuko Imai - Cello, Violin, Viola
- Ito Ema (Ma Recordings)
- Gustav Leonhart
- Andreas Schiff
- Glenn Gould 1955
- Charles Rosen
 

Joel

Member
Sep 13, 2013
134
3
18
www.audiophile-magazine.com
#9
I would add o the list both Scott Ross' recordings (1985 Erato & 1988 EMI).
In my opinion two of the very best performances so far...
 

Ki Choi

Member Sponsor
May 13, 2010
754
7
18
Seattle WA area
#10
Yes - the Goldberg Variations are one of my favorite solo piano pieces. I was never interested in other versions - like with an accompanying orchestra after hearing the Loussier jazz trio version.

Ki - Ms Ema's performance has what I thought to be the most elegant rendition. I think that a large part of it is that she did not use it to show off her piano skills, but performed it with heartfelt emotion. Usually, I don't like a lot of Japanese artists - especially jazz - as they are technically excellent but without the feeling. This one is exceptional in my mind.
:)
 

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
925
462
63
#11
Thanks for an excellent post, Gary.

As for my pref, Gould Rulz - just like he owns Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4, he owns this piece.

And if you like rock n roll, give a shout out to Wanda Landowska!
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,439
29
48
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#13
Thanks for an excellent post, Gary.

As for my pref, Gould Rulz - just like he owns Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4, he owns this piece.

And if you like rock n roll, give a shout out to Wanda Landowska!
Thanks, tima. I guess that's why sometimes it's called the Gouldberg Variations because Glenn Gould did make it his own.

Also, thank you for the shout out to Wanda Landowska. That's also quite an interpretation from 1933!!

 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,439
29
48
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#14
Finally available plus free download!!

Todd Garfinkle finally gets this ready! After reviewing the test pressing, and letting me buy all of ONE copy (which I gave away to a Genesis owner), he finally has this wonderful album in production and available for sale!!
http://www.marecordings.com/main/product_info.php?cPath=61&products_id=53

The cutting was done by Len Horowitz and the plating and 200gm pressing was done at Acoustic Sounds QRP pressing plant.

He's also given us a free download of Aria and first 5 Variations. The link will take you to the WeTransfer site and from there you can download the sample tracks.
 
May 30, 2010
15,506
715
113
Portugal
#16
Todd Garfinkle finally gets this ready! After reviewing the test pressing, and letting me buy all of ONE copy (which I gave away to a Genesis owner), he finally has this wonderful album in production and available for sale!!
http://www.marecordings.com/main/product_info.php?cPath=61&products_id=53

The cutting was done by Len Horowitz and the plating and 200gm pressing was done at Acoustic Sounds QRP pressing plant.

He's also given us a free download of Aria and first 5 Variations. The link will take you to the WeTransfer site and from there you can download the sample tracks.
Thanks Gary. Do you know of any reliable source for MA recordings in Europe? Last time I got a few recordings from the US I paid more in customs charges and handling than the cost of shipping and goods.
 
May 25, 2010
973
234
43
SF Bay Area
#17
Todd Garfinkle finally gets this ready! After reviewing the test pressing, and letting me buy all of ONE copy (which I gave away to a Genesis owner), he finally has this wonderful album in production and available for sale!!
http://www.marecordings.com/main/product_info.php?cPath=61&products_id=53

The cutting was done by Len Horowitz and the plating and 200gm pressing was done at Acoustic Sounds QRP pressing plant.

He's also given us a free download of Aria and first 5 Variations. The link will take you to the WeTransfer site and from there you can download the sample tracks.
Thanks Gary, I just ordered the record. Larry
 

allvinyl

Active Member
Apr 10, 2013
268
41
28
69
Burnsville, MN
#18
Noisy Pressing

Thanks Gary, I just ordered the record. Larry
I did, as well, and received my copy this past week. It came in Todd's new inner sleeve.

I like the interpretation, but the pressing is N O I S Y all the way through. I am wondering about that inner sleeve. I am going to contact them about the issue.

John
 

astrotoy

VIP/Donor
May 25, 2010
973
234
43
SF Bay Area
#20
I did, as well, and received my copy this past week. It came in Todd's new inner sleeve.

I like the interpretation, but the pressing is N O I S Y all the way through. I am wondering about that inner sleeve. I am going to contact them about the issue.

John
I had the same issue. I ripped a section for Todd and he heard it and is sending me a good copy. Larry
 

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