March 18, 2016

Heart of Goldbergness

My Goldberg fetish is now approaching clinical levels.  After a careful listen or three I can vouch for Perahia's masterful performance, and thanks to Google autoplay have discovered Rosalyn Tureck's enthralling 1957 rendition as well.  Glenn Gould reportedly named Tureck as the only pianist whose work he admired, although it was his own acclaimed interpretation that eclipsed her; in 1981 he -Wittgenstein-like - recanted the original effort and submitted a revised version.

But Tureck was hot stuff, too, having gained a particular appreciation of the Goldberg Variations through a sudden epiphany in the 1940s:
[S]he had an out-of-body experience playing Bach's counterpoint, in which she briefly blacked out and returned to consciousness with an indelible sensation of the music as a three-dimensional experience, something existing in space as well as time – inspired a complete reconstruction of her pianistic technique when it came to playing Bach's music. Tureck's astonishingly ambitious idea was the complete independence of her 10 fingers, not just in terms of which note they were playing, but in loudness, articulation, touch and expression. What she was striving for was complete crystalline clarity of line in Bach's densest polyphony, so that each stratum of counterpoint could communicate directly to the listener. 
She once called harpsichordist Wanda Landowska on her bullshit, saying "you play it your way; I play it Bach's way," leading to a hockey-style punch-up, I bet.  The remark seems a little unjust:  Landowska's full performance on harpsichord is eminently listenable, even if the the harpsichord was not exactly authentic, and surely a master of her level should be allowed a bit of room for interpretation.  For further information you may visit the Tureck Bach Research Institute, and say hello to the Mad Hatter for me while you're there.

The Goldbergs present a special problem.

But we are not daunted.  Your real Goldberg aficionado wants to push the limits, go deeper into the G-major labyrinth, and summon the shadows lurking in the shadows, and the antishadows and negative antishadows so as to interrogate Bach's normative contrapuntal stylings and make them confess, compel them to admit that the world is not one glorious harmonious whole created by the hand of God, but a nightmare of unreason, dark, dissonant, and imponderable.

The interrogator in this instance is the estimable Lara Downes:

(That cover, by the way, is to a middle-aged man exactly what Carly Simon's 'No Secrets' was to the teenager. But I digress.)

Really, don't get this album unless you're serious, it is Hard. Core.

Track listing:

1:  Aria, Johann Sebastian Bach

2:  Chasing Goldberg, Fred Lerdahl

3: The Gilmore Variation, Jennifer Higdon

4: Variation Fugato, Bright Sheng

5:  Goldmore Variation, Lukas Foss

6:  Kontraphunktus, Derek Bermel

7:  Melancholy Minuet, Fred Hersch

8:  Rube Goldberg Variation, Curtis Curtis-Smith

9:  Fantasy Variation, Stanley Walden

10:  Ornament, Ryan Brown

11: Ghost Variation, Mischa Zupko

12: My Goldberg, David Del Tredici

13:  Yet Another Goldberg Variation, William Bolcom

14:  Variation on Variation with Variation, Ralf Gothóni

15: Aria (Reprise), Johann Sebastian Bach

...but wait!  There's more!

16: Chorale, Dave Brubeck

17: Prelude in D, Lukas Foss

18: Sarabande, Johann Sebastian Bach

Last night I listened to the whole thing driving home from Berkeley, sick, exhausted, and over-caffeinated.  I'm not gonna lie, some people won't be able to handle it.  It's heavy, it's deep.  It shows you things Bach didn't want you to see.  It tells lies strangely like truth, it knocks you down and hurts your feelings:

After I parked my car I walked through the little grove of trees near my home, and caught myself humming an old tune.  It took a while to remember the name  - "Listen to What the Man Said" by Paul McCartney.  Funny, I hadn't thought about it since I was a teenager.

When I got inside I looked it up.  Yup: G-major.

Dark places, I'm telling you.


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