The Open Goldberg Variations

Variation 23

JS Bach

The Goldberg Variations
Kimiko Ishizaka, piano

May 29, 2012
 I am not a professional musician, although I had a sound studio in the 80's and
 made some execrable electronic music back then. And I am not a professional
 critic, although back in the oughts I wrote the reviews for Perseverance Theatre
 for a season or four. I am just a person, like you, who listens to a bewildering
 array genres these days, now that music has, for all intents, broken free of physicality.

 When I was growing up, there were not a lot of kids going down to the corner
 record store and plopping down their limited entertainment dollars on classical
 music box sets - at least, not a lot who had plans of getting laid at some point
 in the future. There were drugs to be bought, and concert tickets to be scalped -
 and no, I'm not referring to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

So, between social pressures from one direction and economic pressures from
another, not a lot of classical music was consumed by my generation
(other than the soundtracks of Warner Brothers cartoons, of course). Yes, one
could sneak the occasional Tomita into the pile, or one of Rick Wakeman's
rock operas, but that was about it. John William's Star Wars soundtrack,
(a thinly disguised rework of Wagner, after all) just looked *odd* sitting  there
between the Rolling Stones and .38 Special.

But now you can listen to hours if not days of 50's lounge, Javanese gamelan,
Inuit throat-singing, ambient trance psychedelic dark techno-gao, folk-punk,  
baroque fugues rendered on traditional electronic synthesizers; you can
construct epic soundtracks from bad 80's action movies to follow you
throughout your day, you can knock every version of Beethoven's Violin
Concerto in D Major off your bucket list if you don't sleep for two weeks.

But, even with this vast ocean of Muppet covers and nerdcore rap and
precisely constructed workout playlists, of pre-show songs to pump you up
or post-coital tunes to hum you off to dreamland, there are some pieces
that have their iconic interpretation already nailed down. The afoementioned
Op.61 by Beethoven? Itzhak Perlman. Does this mean we shouldn't listen
to Julia Fischer or Heifitz or Stern or Anne Sophie-Mutter? What are you,

It's not like Heath Ledger obliterated Jack Nicholson, or Cesar Romero,
for that matter.

In the case of Bach's Goldberg Variations, it is impossible to avoid the long
shadow still cast by Glenn Gould's 1955 debut recording; an esoteric, quick-
tempoed, technically precise interpretation that caught the public's fancy and
catapulted the eccentric Gould to fame. For the majority of us, who may enjoy
a good tear in your beer or do-wop in the cop shop but aren't necessarily
that knowledgeable about tunes to listen to while wearing a powdered wig,
any new interpretation is going to be compared to the Gould standard.

An interesting new version
of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
has just been recorded by
Kimiko Ishizaka on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial
in the
Teldex Studio, Berlin, produced by Anne-Marie Sylvestre. As the
web site referenced to the left states, this recording is the first fan-funded,
open source, and completely free recording ever produced. You can find
out more about it by clicking the link, and I highly encourage you  to do so
yourself, and draw your own conclusions.

For me, listening to Variation 23, it seemed, in comparison to Gould, that
she was slurring, or possibly misspoke; but on repeated listenings, it became
clear to me that I had become so conditioned by Gould's over-articulation
that I mistook personality for a character flaw. Gould's performance is a
stunning technical feat, but he does come off as somewhat of an android in
comparison to Ishizaka's more human interpretation.

Did I mention that they're free, as in beer? You should check them out.