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Re: GG: Rosen on GG and Horowitz; Dubal

On Tue, 26 Oct 1999, John Hill wrote:

> 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.

Wait...yer sayin' ye got a Rubsam WTC?  Tell me more!  I didn't know he'd
done those yet....  Ah, unless it's those early versions on the Friedemann
Notebook disc.

Another nicely Gumby type of Bach player is J-Carlos Martins.  The
Dionysus to GG's Apollo, or Eusebius to Florestan.

> > 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?

I was a little surprised by his opinion, too, until remembering that
Sandor's known at least as well as a pedagogue as as a performer.  He's
probably so accustomed to crystallizing his wisdom into nicely teachable
sayings such as this....  I don't find his own recordings of Bartok bland
at all.

One of my piano teachers studied with Sandor, and her own [Apollonian]
style is to plan every detail very carefully and thoughtfully.  Or, at
least, she gave me low marks whenever I brought in something I hadn't
prepared thoughtfully enough.  Not sure how much of this is inherited from
Sandor, but it's terrific as a pedagogical philosophy, and very positively
changed my way of working on pieces.

> > 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.

It's a continuum.  There's a lot to be said for the bending and
italicization that one does instinctively in response to live listeners as
they contribute attention.  It's a positive feedback loop.  (Anthony
Rooley's book _Performance: Revealing the Orpheus Within_ is fantastic
along these lines...but annoyingly it's out of print!)  When there's no
audience present the performance tends to be more objective (in my
experience anyway) and the recorded result is less interesting to listen
to.  A live performance when it's going well is closer to at-the-moment
creativity, and that shows up on the tape as a positive feature (even if
in hindsight some of the choices turn out to be questionable).  

Was it Barenboim whose philosophy is to do two whole takes of a piece and
that's it, trusting that intercuts between the two can build something
even greater than either one?  

> 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.

Yup, and Sandor as a recording artist grew up in the very early LP days.
He was probably very glad for the Dolby when it came around.  More
recently he's remade quite a bit for digital.

> > 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.

Yup.  After writing this afternoon I put on the Hindemith brass sonatas
and marveled again at GG's clarity.

Bradley Lehman | http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/ | Dayton, VA, USA