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  Sony Classical -
  SS 89243
  Bach: Goldberg Variations - Perahia
  Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Murray Perahia (piano)
Track listing:
  Classical - Instrumental
  Single Layer
Recording type:
Recording info:
  SRGR749 in Japan.

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Reviews: 5 show all

Review by prometheus August 25, 2005 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
It took me a while to overcome cynicism and skepticism after the launch of SACD. We'd heard it all before, right? The closest approach to reality.....natural sound just like the finest LP played on a Linn? But then I heard this disc and knew that I had hit the motherlode: the finest Steinway was in my living-room!

The odd thing is, when I had first bought the RBCD after much journalistic hyperbole, I didn't rate it at all. Sure, the sound was anything but pleasant: the piano actually sounded like an assemblage of wires attached to metal, with plenty of clanging and buzzing. Headache-inducing, I would call the sound's ferocity and its tendency to overload on climaxes, or even on a good forceful left-hand chord. But Perahia's actual playing, too, seemed unduly declamatory,pompous,loud, and--unusually enough for this master of the classical-era piano--anachronistic and even tasteless.

So relief to turn to someone like Angela Hewitt on a Hyperion CD.Refined--reticent even--for the most part but with a seamless flow from variation to variation and (where required)intermittently powerful (Variations 1, 15, 30)and even jazzy--Tatum-like, if you will--in its delight in bravura syncopation (Variation 6). Pleasing too--notwithstanding necessary contrast and diversity--was her sense of the work as a whole (as a unity, even) with the final Variation 32 nicely echoing the opening Aria's sombre sense of sadness. The piano tone was pleasant and unexceptionable; not exactly warm or natural, I suppose, but certainly not migraine-inducing!

Then Perahia gets a rebirth courtesy of--praise where it's due--technological advance. Put the disc in and was left--just this once and not for long, I admit--utterly speechless! Now piano recordings with their bumping, banging, clanging and the like had long succeeded in putting me off the infernal instrument. But then I took a gamble and bought a ticket for an Annie Fischer Beethoven recital and was AMAZED at what a beautiful and staggeringly powerful sound the big box of wires could produce. Now this was what I was hearing through my own stereo: a true moment of epiphany! And although from time to time I had argued with audio buffs that sound doesn't really matter THAT much, I could now see the errors of my ways. What had appeared overblown and out-of-period was now revealed (with the detailed rendition of EVERY note and the absence of glare and distortion) to be power of the kind heretofore reserved for the massed pipes of a Cavaille-Coll. Instead of jazz in Variation 6, we get a pre-echo of a crazed Chopin scherzo. The quiet, wistful interludes such as Variation 16 have an intensity--aura, even--which make one want to cease breathing. At times, it all seems so real and immediate, so present and THERE that one feels like an intruder: an intruder upon a communion between an artiste and a composer, or even between a composer and his God. Whereas Hewitt in Variation 31 makes the Chorale into generalised Vocalise, Perahia seems to be actually impersonating a Handelian tenor in one of the more dramatic oratorios. In trills and arpeggios (such as in Variation 15), the individual component notes are clearly and cleanly delineated--even at the sometimes headlong pace which Perahia sets. He dispatches this Aria and 32 Variations in 73:29 compared with Hewitt's scarcely sedate 78:32.

When I emerged from my auditory amazement my first thought was: how wonderful that I should have been permitted--with no little assistance, I must confess, from an extremely able Cardiac Surgeon--to greet this brave new world!

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Review by Julien January 3, 2007 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I don't think we praise enough, or at all, the outstanding quality of the Sony recordings. Even in the digital PCM recording era, I often realise how good many of the Sony recordings were.
This recording is still PCM, but sounds a lot better on SACD than RBCD anyway, and also far better than a few of the pure DSD piano recordings I own.

The best Philips piano recording I've heard is the Mitsuko Uchida Schubert SACD. Pure DSD, and to my ears it is slightly better than this one for two reasons:
The first is because it is not as close-miked, so you have more of what Krisjan wrote very accuratly a few days ago: "I NEVER expect an orchestra to be in my listening room. That is absurd, IMO. A good recording will transport ME to the RECORDIND SPACE". I say yes, this is what the little extra space between the instrument and the microphones can give us. More of that natural reverberation of a beautiful sounding music hall (I pointed that out in my review of the Mutter DG recording in the Musikverein in Vienna).
The second is that I believe DSD brings more natural resonance than PCM (even after being converted to DSD). This is one of the most striking differences, you can try the experience with a good average SACD player and a more expensive CD player, put on the SACD and then the CD layer of the same disc, it is especially obvious with big short orchestral chords. The resonance is normally much longer on SACD.

Still, the sound here is close to the very best recordings. Solo piano recording is not easy, and this one does well also with the positionning of the instrument (remember those recordings that make the piano sound like it's 20 feet large?). So it will be 4 stars and half for the sound.

As for the performance, a former reviewer pointed out that the quality of the SACD changed his mind about Perahia's playing. I have had the RBCD for a long time, actually I've always appreciated Perahia's artistry. So I wasn't fooled, and I still think professional musicians don't get easily fooled by the recording if they listen to instruments they know well. But. I give 4 stars and half for the performance, and maybe it would have been 4 stars after hearing the RBCD. Because with SACD you hear a lot more the slight changes of the sound. Little details that distinguish the great masters from the good players.

Perahia is a great artist for sure, and playing the Goldberg variations on a modern piano is not an easy matter now that we appreciate the beauty and stylistic accuracy of the harpsichord for baroque music. But here, even stylistically speaking, every little detail and nuance is taken care of. The use of the right pedal is perfect. Only the great piano masters (not all the famous names!) get to that level. He also brings the structure of the work beautifully.

To put it in a nutshell, what Murray Perahia is doing here is making me appreciate Bach on the piano again.

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Review by FivePointOne September 22, 2003 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

I've got Goldberg Variations on redbook played by Glenn Gould, by Rosalyn Tureck and by Scott Ross(harpsichord) so I'm pretty familiar with the piece and different styles of its performance.

This stands head and shoulders above them. The Stereo SACD format allows the richness of the piano to shine, and Perahia's playing is very expressive. It makes think I can feel the hammers and dampers touching the piano's strings.

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Works: 1  

Johann Sebastian Bach - Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (Clavier-Übung IV)