Goldberg - Poem by gershon hepner
Not playing that is spiritual and plumbs
profundity of Goldberg variations,
but ecstasy uncanny, as Glenn hums,
exceeding, maybe, Johann’s expectations,
for this performance thrills, illuminating
the music, though the fingers are most skittish;
Canadians, who are used to finger skating,
must wonder if he’s German, French or British.
Anomalous as Goldberg’s name, he was
no Semite, although Leipzig had a few,
but Protestant, like Bach. Withhold applause:
for Glenn’s as quirky as a wandering Jew.
Inspired by an article by Edward Rothstein on a “reperformance” of Glenn Gould’s mono rendition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations played at the Yamaha piano studios in New York on March 7,2007 (“Is It Live..or Yamaha? Channeling Glenn Gould”) :
Then one day last week Zenph — which took its name from “senf, ” the German word for mustard — brought a press demonstration of its “Goldbergs” to Yamaha’s New York piano studios, playing portions of the work both on the Disklavier and from its recording, due to be released at the end of May on Sony BMG Masterworks. Before the demonstration I returned to the 1955 recording, which I had not heard for several years. I was swept away again. This is not spiritual playing, plumbing the profundity of Bach’s meditations; it is ecstatic, uncanny in its intoxication. The recording is skittish, illuminating, thrilling and extraordinarily physical: the playing seeps into muscles as well as ears; every phrase exerts the pressure and play of dance. John Q. Walker, Zenph’s president, knows this as well. He is a brilliant software engineer (who did important work in computer networking) and a musician who speaks of his enterprise with impassioned fervor. Last week, when he started the Yamaha instrument playing his encodings of Gould, something thrilling really did take place. The piano produced sounds that were indisputably human and unmistakably Gouldian. The playing could not have come from any other pianist. But wait.... Gould’s recorded piano sound is dry, as if each note were squeezed free of moisture. The phrases quiver; connections between notes are tensile, as if they were being held together by sinews. But at the demonstration the sound was often plump, rotund, even bell-like. That is partly the character of Yamaha pianos. And isn’t that a problem? Any great pianist will adjust a performance to the instrument, treating one with a “wet sound” differently from one with more sharply etched qualities, phrasing differently, even adjusting tempo. This difference in instruments limits Zenph’s claims; it also seemed to slacken the music’s sinews.
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