JS Bach: 1.Goldberg Variations; Partita No. 5 in G, BWV 8292.Goldberg Variations Sony 88697 03350 2 (hybrid CD/SACD) 76:34 mins

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: 1.Goldberg Variations; Partita No. 5 in G, BWV 8292.Goldberg Variations Sony 88697 03350 2 (hybrid CD/SACD) 76:34 mins
PERFORMER: 1.Glenn Gould (piano)2.Glenn Gould (piano) re-processed by Zenph
CATALOGUE NO: 8.111247 ADD mono Reissue(1954/55)
One thing’s for sure. Ever the studio junkie Glenn Gould would have been fascinated by Zenph’s ‘Re-Performance’ of the iconic 1955 Goldbergs. Computer analysed, digitally encoded, cleaned up and played back on a 9 foot Yamaha Disklavier Pro Grand (the 21st-century answer to the player-piano), the result is like a rigorously-restored painting flaunting its gleaming new colours. There’s more. At 38 repeat-omitting minutes, Gould’s Goldbergs even in surround sound do not represent good value-for-money, so Zenph repeats the whole shebang in binaural stereo to give ‘the ultimate headphones experience’.

Advertisement

Ironically, in getting a Gould’s-ear sound picture (by sticking omnidirectional mics in the ears of a strategically positioned dummy head), they discovered the result was rather ‘dull’. Famously Gould sat so low to perform that the fallboard of the piano took the edge off things. Answer? Raise your dummy! So far so intriguing. But there are big issues here. It’s clear Zenph’s motivation is anything but commercial or attention-seeking. It’s also clear that a point is being stretched to claim ‘a new Glenn Gould recording made 24 years after his death’. A myriad of editorial decisions have had to be taken in which Gould had no part; most important of all, what would one of the most neurotically sensitive artists to enter a recording studio have made of the piano’s place within the acoustic, and crucially of the piano itself? The Yamaha has a rounded evenness across the range that sounds less characterful than Gould’s original – especially when heard immediately after Naxos’s ‘straight’, unvarnished transfer – which reminds you that something else is missing too: those vocal ejaculations willing the music on or sharing its pain. Gould’s ‘finger magic’ emerges unscathed of course, but some of the personality vanishes. In surround sound, more, paradoxically, can be less: less truthful (whatever that may mean), and less scintillatingly edgy too. The ‘dummy’ gives a glorious earful though! Paul Riley