Ito Ema Bach Goldberg Variations

The best thing I picked up at the Newport Show! 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 Goldbert 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. Then, I found Jacques Loussier's Jazzy interpretation. However, I found the first one showed off Gould's pianistic technique without much feeling, and the second was full of feeling, but quite far from the Count's "smooth and lively" Bach piece.

Gould re-recorded the Goldberg Variations in 1981, with an even more precise touch and restoring Bach's repeats and ornamentation. 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. Perhaps it's just my opinion, 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 pianists own 1903 Steinway & Sons Model D Patent Grand is used. 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 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.

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.

Mono & Stereo friend Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies, Inc.