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Bach - Goldberg Variations

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Francois de Larrard, Mar 13, 2012.

  1. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Dear All,
    After my recent moving, I have found some old cassettes, and I had the curiosity to listen some of them to see how they were supporting years. Some are in quite a good shape, and other are degrading slowly. Among those ones, I have transferred and remixed a recording I made 20 years ago on my computer: the legendary Goldberg Variations. I think I spent about 18 months studying and learning this paramount chef-d'oeuvre, and after one (private) concert I made a recording during a week-end, with my old portable Sony cassette recorder. Of course, I had no way to make cuts at this time, so that there are a number of slips from place to place. Also the sound is of (sometimes less than) average quality, especially at the beginning where the cassette displayed some 'wow'. In spite of those technical defects, I wonder wether you would find the recording worth uploading. Hence there is no complete version of the Goldberg on PS (to date). Thanks for listening this archive !

    P.S.
    Upon decision of the administrators, I could provide more details on the structure of the pieces to add on the Goldberg page.


    Bach - BWV 988 - Goldberg Variations - Part I (19:46)
    Bach - BWV 988 - Goldberg Variations - Part II (20:59)
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Francois,
    I am torn by two impulses here. In the first, I would hold that any submission of this magnificant work should be nothing less than a perfect performance and a perfect recording. But in the second, though your performance of the work has an occasional (rare) mild slip here and there, you have done an extraordinary work and accomplishment, and I would hate for that to go unrecognized! Also, as old as the sound was on tape, I find it sufficiently acceptable to hear and appreciate the beauty of Bach. Thank you so much! I hope it is uploaded.

    Best,
    Eddy
     
  3. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I don't care about the quality of the recording.

    I don't care about the quality of the instrument.

    I don't care about the technical boo boos.

    This is a masterful, absolutely masterful interpretation and performance.

    Glorious. Stunning.

    So few decent, much less inspired recordings of this music.

    So few to be had for love or money. Just a lot of pretenders... all the usual suspects.

    But this is the real deal... right here at Piano Society.

    I am completely bowled over!

    Oh, yes, I forgot to mention .... I have heard pretty much ALL the recordings ever made on the piano of this piece .... and I (personally) would put this right up there with Gould 1, 2, and 3, as well as my other favourite Ekaterina Dershavina's little known recording.

    Much as I like and respect the others (Hewitt, Dinnerstein, Arrau, Rosen, etc., etc., etc., etc.....) this interpretation is on a much higher plane musically.

    Damn the torpedoes. This is just brilliant stuff.

    JG
     
  4. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Admins: That's TWO votes FOR so far! :D
     
  5. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Francois,

    I would echo the others in saying kudos for the accomplishment. And it would be very nice to see a complete recording of this seminal Bach work on the site for reference. However, I would have some reservations about this recording. The slips don't bother me as much as some of the unevennesses and tempo deviations from variation to variation. The aria was very well played, with musical phrasing and good control, but then it seemed to turn into a bit of a struggle in the variations (the tempo didn't sound secure to me, and some of the fingerwork passages sounded a bit sloppy and flubbed.

    I hate to be a naysayer, and I know it's nice to find an old recording from one's past, but it does seem like in a work this well-known, some of the passages will stick out like a sore thumb.

    Just my opinion of course. I'm not trying to be nitpicking, just trying to articulate what I'm hearing. Certainly fine if you and others say I'm talking nonsense :p

    Joe
     
  6. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I am not enough of a Goldberg expert to gauge whether JLG's exalted praise is justified. Buy I fully agree this is a masterful performance. It combines complete authority with palpable joy of playing. I agree with Joe that there are some issues but I do not find them in any way distracting. On the contrary, it gives this mountainous and sacrosanct work a very human face. While I heard numerous slips, misreadings, and assorted little problems,
    the words sloppy and flubbed never came to my mind. The positive qualities far outweigh the few negative ones. It occurred to me that you sound
    like a 'big' player who consistently projects a strong tone. It was perhaps played on a large concert grand ?

    The sound may be a bit boxy, wavery and prone to clipping, but it's not at all bad. One quickly gets used to it and I still much prefer this above most of the anodyne digital sound we get these days.

    To sum up, an awesome recording which should surely go on the site even if it's not spit-polish perfect. The only thing I am not sure about
    is the formatting into two large chunks. I would much prefer having all the variations in separate mp3's, named and tagged acoring to the rules.
    Can you do that Francois ?
     
  7. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sorry to go OT, but did you mean "anodyne" here? I thought anodyne meant having a calming or soothing effect, which would seem strange to me, knowing how you feel about digital pianos :p.
     
  8. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re my over-the-top praise: are there technical snafus? Absolutely. But only in the narrow sense of that word.

    As for the tempi, moving from one Variation to the next: perfect.

    It very much feels to me as if the whole was recorded in one take. I find (my taste only) the tempi spot on.

    JG
     
  9. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Huh, dunno what I was thinking. I meant to say anaemic, in the sense of bloodless.

    I agree with all that. There could perhaps have been a bit more variation in tempi, some fast vars could have been more relaxed. But it's quite a moot point.
     
  10. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    No! I disagree strongly with this and hope you will relent. It is a pain in the *** to have to download and start every single individual variation of this work and would absolutely ruin the experience of listening to it. PLEASE don't require it! There is much artistry in how the performer moves from one variation to the next that will be obliterated if it is broken up. It's sort of like asking to take a triptych, separate it into it's individual panels, frame each with a thick ornate frame and then hang on the wall with considerable space in between. Please don't do it.

    Disclaimer: I will soon be submitting Rameau's Gavotte et six doubles (7' total) which would be equally and similarly marred and hope the same for it.
     
  11. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Eddy is absolutely right about splitting up this GV. The fact is that the pro recordings SUFFER from exactly this defect: they sound as if they have been individually nipped and tucked (and quite probably they have been). Not a bad thing, necessarily; but in this instance we have an interpretation that coheres quite profoudly as a whole.

    JG
     
  12. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Yes good point folks. We should be using indexed mp3's or something but I have never investigated that.
    So let it be two parts. Less work :D
     
  13. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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  14. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hello everybody,
    Sorry to answer so late, but I had a busy week

    Eddy:
    Thanks very much for your support, and your indulgence regarding my poor cassette tape !
    Also, you save me quite a long time in voting against Chris' suggestion of cutting each variation from the whole bunch ! Finally I am looking forward to hearing your Rameau pieces. The 'Gavotte variée' was my first experience in this field, and I have a special tenderness for it...

    JG:
    I am just becoming all red reading your first post :oops: ! Maybe your enthusiasm comes from Bach much more than from my modest interpretation ? Maybe you hadn't listened this extraordinary music for some years, and your reunion with the Goldberg family is blowing you up? By the way, since the time when I recorded them, I kept the memory of an unsatisfactory work, with plenty of flaws. It is only because I was rather surprised that they were not so bad that I dared submitting them to PS; of course my indulgence came from the great joy of being 'back to Bach', feeling that the Cantor's music is something we should never leave for long - an opinion probably shared by others here at PS ! Anyway, many thanks: your feedback gives me motivation to spend another 20 years practicicing alone in my cave !

    Chris:
    Also many thanks for your kind appreciation, from (one of) the first Bach's disciple at PS. As usual, your view is very sharp and balanced in your judgement. As for the question of cutting or keeping the variations together, I agree with Eddy's opinion, not only because of my lazinness. Even if each variation can be considered as a consistent, self-bearing work, one must take a good part of the tour to really access to this paradisiac world. Actually the global structure of the Goldberg is a magnificent architecture, with progressions in the Canons series - I will post you an addendum to the presentation - that you loose if you only pick variations frome place to place. But the Cantor knew that it could be difficult for the listener to stay still during 40, or even 80 minutes without moving*. So that the natural way of listening the Goldberg is really to start by the first half, which terminates by a slow, meditative and minor mood variation. Then, after a rest - did Bach invent the modern concert interval ? - you come back into the Goldberg through an 'Ouverture à la française' (here my national pride can only be excited !), and you get (hopefully) an even higher emotional experience. Note that 20' + 20' is more or less the format of the old LPs, which was in my opinion much closer to the human metabolism than the full 1-hour CD duration.
    To come back to the ideal listening format of Goldbergs, I wouldn't be of the same opinion for the Well-Tempered Clavier, that I had always found paramount, but difficult to hear in continuity.

    Joe:
    Thank you to bring some contradiction in this otherwise too consensual debate ! Regarding the tempo:
    - within a variation, I may accelerate a little. I agree this is something that can be criticized. Fortunately, I find now that I can sustain a more stable tempo in this kind of pieces, probably an effect of aging and loosing a part of youth impetuosity...
    - from one variation to another one: I don't know what is the state-of-the-art among the musicologist community - I know there have been many progresses in the last 30 years about how this music was played by the ancients. But my personnal listener experience is the following: it is agreable to hear changes and contrasts, provided, of course, that they are compatible with the music, rather than hearing a long and uniform series of pieces played at the same strength and same tempo. If Bach gave little or no indication in terms of tempi and dynamics and attacks etc., this is IMO to let the performer taking options. Of course, the good taste must lead him. What is good taste ? Big question...

    A last question not addressed by any of you to date: the repetitions ('reprise' in French, not sure about the correct translation). For a live performance, my opinion is that they must be played, since, for the listener, and given the density and the perfection of this music, the pleasure you get is double at the second listening of each half-variation. Glenn Gould never played it. As for recordings, I have mixed views in this field. I wonder about yours...
    Of cours, with repetitions, the Goldberg last about one hour and half, filling a whole concert program.
     
  15. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Haha, but I'm not off your back yet !
    What I would like you to do is write up the exact list of variations, along with the time where they all start. That way someone who wants to hear a particular variation can jump to it by dragging their slider to that point in time.
    I wish we'd have something like YouTube, where inserting a timestamp like 1:23 automagically creates a link to that point in the video.
    This is probably not possible for mp3's, though would be great if it were.

    Yes it makes much sense to split the Goldbergs in these two halves. It makes you wonder whether Bach did perform it in public, or have that in his mind when composing.
     
  16. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Chris,
    Your idea to provide the time schedule of each variation inside the two parts makes sense, and so I spent time trying to answer to your request. Therefore, I am attaching a list of the variations, with titles and times. Hope it's OK.
    Also, as promissed, I am proposing an addendum to the Goldberg page, giving some explanations about the structure of the composition. Of course, entire books could be written (and have probably been) about it, but I hope these lines may help the listeners in finding clues in this labyrinthus.
    As usual, my limited English needs editing. A last point: could you give the year of recording ('1992) ? Thanks !
    ---------------------------------------------
    GOLDBERG VARIATIONS
    Part 1
    Aria 00:00
    Variation 1 01:59
    Variation 2 02:56
    Variation 3 Canone all'Unisuono 03:50
    Variation 4 04:58
    Variation 5 05:32
    Variation 6 Canone alla Seconda 06:17
    Variation 7 al tempo di Giga 07:03
    Variation 8 08:10
    Variation 9 Canone alla Terza 09:07
    Variation 10 Fughetta 10:19
    Variation 11 11:08
    Variation 12 Canone alla Quarta 12:12
    Variation 13 13:20
    Variation 14 15:49
    Variation 15 Canone alla Quinta 16:53

    Part 2
    Variation 16 Ouverture 00:00
    Variation 17 01:33
    Variation 18 Canone alla Sesta 02:34
    Variation 19 03:13
    Variation 20 04:02
    Variation 21 Canone alla Settima 05:06
    Variation 22 Alla breve 06:55
    Variation 23 07:38
    Variation 24 Canone all'Ottava 08:44
    Variation 25 Adagio 10:05
    Variation 26 13:46
    Variation 27 Canone alla Nona 14:50
    Variation 28 15:38
    Variation 29 16:52
    Variation 30 Quodlibet 17:55
    Aria 18:47

    (Chris: I tried to attach the Excel file, but appartently the system does not like this format !)
    ----------------------------------------------
    The structure of the Goldberg variations deserve some explanations. It can be seen as a circle, starting and ending by the Aria. Between those two gates, we find 30 varions, organised according to a sequence of ten sets of three variations. Each variation is supported by the same bass line, and, more or less, the same harmonic structure, although some of them are in minor mood.

    The 3-variation sets always comprise a first variation of varied structure (a dance, a fughetta, a two- or three-part invention etc.). Then comes a virtuosity one, followed by a canon. A canon is a piece of polyphony, where the second voice is the same as the first one, but delayed in time (the delay can be a measure, e.g.).

    In the first canon ('all unisuono', in Italian), the second voice is the repetition of the first one. In the second one ('alla seconda'), the second voice starts one tone higher, and so on until the canon alla Nona, where the interval between the two voices is a 9th. In order to avoid total symetry, which could bring some dryness and a too abstract character, Bach no longer writes a canon for the last set of three pieces, but rather a 'Quodlibet'. In this marvelous piece, there are actually two superimposed themes being popular German songs. The original titles of these two songs are 'Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir g'west' () and 'Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben' (). This is just an example of how the Cantor could transmute any trivial material in sublime matter...

    There are finally three levels in the Goldberg structure: the most macroscopic shows a first part of aria + 15 variations, and the second part which can be seen as the same, but viewed in a mirror (15 variations + aria). Each part lasts about 20 minutes, or the double if the repetitions are performed, which must be the case for concert performance. The second level of analysis is the one of the three-variation sets. The third level is the one of each separate variation, all of them being beautiful and consistent pieces. We could even find a fourth level, since each variation is two-fold: the first half coming from the tonic to the dominant (that is from G to D), the second half doing the reverse way (from the dominant to the tonic, D to G). Again a mirror... Bach is probably one of the very few composers having succeeded in mixing a very mathematical structure of the music with the highest spiritual, but also sensual and emotional efficiency. The Goldberg is perhaps his most acomplished work in this matter.
     
  17. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    My recommended edits are underlined. The few deletions are not evident.
     
  18. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks Eddy ! Have a good sunday (it is over here...),
     
  19. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks Francois. I have edited your text a bit and will append it to the Goldberg page tomorrow.
     
  20. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    I hope you caught any spelling mistakes that I didn't catch, since I make so many all the time. :mrgreen:
     

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