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Re: GG: Rosen on GG and Horowitz; Dubal

Bradley P Lehman wrote:
> I agree with you if I get to substitute the word "individuality" for
> "sound" in your last sentence.  :)  GG's playing has that quality that
> compels us to go hear GG's interpretive opinions about every piece he did
> (we collect the records because they're of GG...i.e., it matters to us
> that GG specifically is playing them, rather than merely a highly skilled
> anonymous recreative performer).  GG's interpretations are
> thought-provoking; his performances were so often *about* the pieces
> rather than *of* the pieces.  We're there to hear GG's analytical ideas at
> least as much as to hear the music.  GG was able to parlay his star
> individuality into a huge [record-buying] audience draw.  It's
> theatricality itself.  "Come hear GG do something that will
> surprise/astonish you!!!"  The fact that this is on a disc rather than in
> a live concert is only a minor detail.

How true.  As I hear more folks' interpretations of Bach and as I play more
of the keyboard works myself, I become more aware of the uniqueness of
GG's interpretations.  They are sometimes totally inexplicable and off-
the-wall, but there's always something unique happening and the clarity
of the communication is awesome.

A few months back, you recommended Rubsam, so I picked up one of his
Bach CDs.  Love the sound!  And the performances have something very
nice about them.  But I find that I almost can't listen to the material that I
know from the GG discography (mostly the Preludes and Fugues from 
Bk. 1 of the WTC).  The rubato and *non-motoricness* of the C-minor
prelude drive me nuts!  And the tempo and constant rubato of the C#-major
prelude just don't seem to cut it.  My sense of what's "right" in the
interpretation of these pieces no doubt comes from having been imprinted
at a young age with GG's awe-inspiring renditions.  I don't seek to *play*
them that way (for one thing, I can't!) but for listening enjoyment, it pretty
much has to be GG.  All others seem to pale rather badly by comparison.

> Gyorgy Sandor has some interesting things to say here about the huge
> differences in playing for recordings vs playing live.  "...Competition
> playing and recording have very real similarities.  Both demand a degree
> of standardization.  When recording a composition, an excessively
> individual rubato or phrasing may be enjoyed the first time, but by the
> tenth time the listener will be irritated with it.  So there can be no
> very interesting rubatos or lingering pauses, which are so important in a
> live performance, where the visual and acoustic elements justify these
> nuances.

Odd.  Is he really arguing in favor of making recordings that have no large-
gesture expressive aspects to them?  The result suggests a uniform,
blanded-out piece of (non) interpretation.  Why bother?

> Similarly, during concert performance one's touch can be unique
> and varied, but on records one's touch is homogenized by the recording
> equipment.

That doesn't make much sense.  If anything, the closer perspective of the
studio microphone pick-up would allow for a *greater* communication of
touch nuance.  Small variations in touch are going to go largely unnoticed
beyond the first few rows of a typical hall and, in fact, pianists more often
have to vary this aspect of their playing in order to "project" their interpretation
to the more distant listeners in the middle and back of a listening space.
The microphones, on the other hand, are usually close enough to preserve
all of this detail and encode it for the recording.  GG was certainly sensitive
to this aspect and wrote about it in some detail (on the liner notes to the
original Partitas album, I think).

>From the studio to the miking to the Dolby to the master tape
> and the pressing--not to mention the editing--we are far from the live
> performance. (...)

And can't you just hear GG responding enthusiastically,
"Yes, I know..."

> One must cultivate two different kinds of
> interpretation.  These two modes of performance have very little in
> common.  We also have to overcome the myth that we can get the real truth
> from recording 'live' performance.  There's no mike that can take the
> extreme ranges without distortion of some kind.  There's nothing I hate
> more than being given a tape of one of my live performances.  It's
> inevitably awful."

I suspect he hated listening to live recordings as much for performance
issues as those related to sound quality.  Listening to one's own recordings
can be a very humbling experience, even for those with outstanding skills.
GG certainly spent many *hours* in the studio to get one *minute* of finished product.

As for mics, they are usually not the weak link in the chain dynamically.
Since Sandor's comments obviously date from the days of analog tape
with Dolby A-type NR, it should be pointed out that the *analog tape* was
(by far) the weakest dynamic link in the recording chain with a total dynamic
range of only about 70 dB (even with the Dolby).  *All* studio mics of this
vintage did about 40 - 50 dB better than that.

> Many of us would
> rather listen to GG's personalization of something a dozen times than to a
> more straightforward standardized recording a dozen times. 

Absolutely!  I can appreciate other pianists for various qualities in their playing,
but I'll prefer the most bizarre, off-the-wall GG interpretation almost every time
because they're so captivating.  Like all great instrumentalists, Gould had a unique
way of speaking through his instrument with unbelievable clarity.