Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In which David Goes to Two Concerts at One Time

Backstory 1: I have more recordings of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach than any other work. My favorite is Glenn Gould's second recording. I listen to it often. I love the music.

The piece is comprised of 30 solo keyboard variations. They say he wrote it to help someone fall asleep. How anyone could fall asleep while paying attention to this piece is beyond me.

Backstory 2: Uri Caine is a jazz pianist & composer. My first exposure to his work was Urlicht/Primal Light - an album based on the music of Gustav Mahler. I was blown away by the creative combination of classical and jazz music. I remember saying "This is the closest the words 'brilliant' and 'jazz' have ever come."

Later I acquired his expansive "re-imagining" of those same Goldberg Variations which I found even more mind blowing. Instead of just combining classical and jazz he combined classical with many musical styles. Dozens of performers, 2 disks, 2 1/2 hours, 70 variations.

The Story: I was excited when I learned Uri Caine would be doing his Goldberg Variations in concert this month - presented by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I guess I wanted to find out how (or, rather, whether) it could be played live.

But first there would be a whole other concert the same evening: the original solo Bach version played by Jeffrey Kahane (music director of LACO). I considered skipping the first part. I'd never heard it played live. The work seems so intimate on disc. How could it possibly have the same power in a room full of coughing, rustling people?

Turns out that I was completely enthralled by the solo keyboard performance. Kahane nailed it. Maybe the first few variations were a little shaky - but maybe I just needed to settle down. After that I was hooked. The tricky 20th variation has always sounded out of control to me - except this time. Nobody coughed. Nobody rustled. I was mesmerized.

If I could have an experience like that every time I went to a concert -- I'd go to more concerts.

Alas, following Kahane's Bach with Caine's Bach turned out not to be such a great idea. With only 7 players there couldn't be as much variety as in the recording. The improvised solos lost my attention every time. (Hey, all jazz solos do that to me lately.) Compared to the laser beam of the solo piano performance, this was diffuse, back-lit. With, say, 50 players instead of 7 it might work. Until then, however, the recorded version of Uri Caine's Goldberg Variations remains a great listening experience.

Music Reviews

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

David -

I'm right there with you on the Uri Caine recordings - although I haven't yet listened to all of the Goldberg Variations variations. Thanks for 'reminding' me that I wanted to go back to these. They are amazing!

The Goldberg Variations are right at the top of my list of favorite pieces, and, as such, I also have a large collection of Goldberg recordings. My favorite is by Maria Tipo, a rare, long out-of-print recording. One of my saddest moments recently occurred a few weeks ago when someone broke into about 10 faculty offices at Berklee in a hunt for faculty laptops. 3 or 4 were stolen, along with a few miscellaneous items. Among the latter were about 10 of the cds I had been using in classes for the last decade or so. Among those was my Maria Tipo recording. It kills me that I won't be able to listen to it again. Why didn't I back it up? I don't suppose there's any chance that you might have her performance in your Goldberg collection?