Sunday, August 6, 2017

Guitaring the Goldbergs

I ran into some wild stuff on YouTube the other day. A couple of years ago I did one of my patented retro record reviews of three different recordings of the Goldberg Variations of J. S. Bach, none of them by Glenn Gould and none of them on piano. Follow the link for that post. But I just noticed some pretty unusual versions of the piece. Years and years ago a couple of friends and colleagues of mine did a pretty nice recording of the Goldbergs on two guitars (one of them an eight-string) and were kind enough to give me a copy. Sadly, that, along with all my other vinyl has disappeared in the mists of time. The last time I was talking to Pepe Romero a few years ago he mentioned that he and his brother Angel were going to record a two-guitar version. I can't find it on Amazon, so if they did do it, it must be no longer available.

The Goldberg Variations are one of the great virtuoso keyboard pieces so you would expect that it would take a guitar duo to perform them. And a pretty accomplished guitar duo at that. But we live in surprising times. Here is a performance of the Aria, the Canons and the Quodlibet from the Goldbergs on solo guitar by Marco Salcito:

Ok, pretty impressive. But that is surpassed by this recording by Jozsef Eotvos of ALL the variations:

Now as we don't have a video it is possible, I suppose, that portions were double-tracked, but it doesn't sound like it to me. Notice that he is playing an eight-string guitar which makes the bass lines a lot easier. Of course he takes the tempos considerably slower than we hear on piano or harpsichord. But as there are no tempo markings in the original, this doesn't seem an indictable offense!

I am reminded of a story I heard about Canadian/American jazz guitarist Lenny Breau who met one of his idols, Chet Atkins, backstage one day and mentioned to him that he, Lenny, had struggled a long time to master this one particular solo on one of Chet Atkins' records. Chet Atkins looked back in amazement and said, "hey, I double-tracked that solo!"


Anonymous said...

Wow, that is impressive. There is serious music talent out there. And I love the sound of the classical guitar so much. So warm and human! I find its timber more appealing than the piano's actually. Too bad the instrument lacks the range and versatility of the latter.

Bryan Townsend said...

Impressive indeed! In the same league as Kazuhito Yamashita's astounding transcription of Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for guitar solo (that I heard him play in concert in Toronto).

Keyboard instruments like the harpsichord and piano replace the action of the fingers directly on the strings with a mechanism. They gain an enormous capacity to play many more notes faster, but what is lost is the control of the sonority of each note.