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Glenn Gould: The Acoustic Orchestrations - Works by Scriabin and Sibelius

Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 540657   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander ScriabinJean Sibelius
Performer:  Glenn Gould
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Acoustic Orchestrations features Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5, recorded by Glenn Gould in 1970 and presented here, for the first time, in the fully “orchestrated” form Gould intended but never fully realized during his lifetime. The restoration and realization of the Scriabin recording is the work of Gould scholar, Paul Theberge, who says, “The Sonata No. 5 was the first, and most ambitious of Gould’s multi-track experiments, employing numerous microphones spread throughout the studio and recorded onto 8-track tape. Gould planned his final mixes much as a film director might assemble a film from a series of close-ups and long shots, hard cuts and dissolves. The results are, by turn, subtle and dramatic, lending an acoustic dimension to Read more the recorded music that is truly ‘orchestral’ in character.” The Acoustic Orchestrations also includes a new multi-track mix of two preludes by Scriabin and music by Sibelius that offers further insight into Gould’s technique.

The Acoustic Orchestrations includes a bonus CD-ROM with a video that illustrates the intricacies of the Scriabin mix, plus edited versions of the original 8-track masters which allow listeners to create their own orchestral mixes.


In a 1973 Rolling Stone interview with Jonathan Cott, Glenn Gould discussed recording Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5 where he simultaneously deployed four ranks of microphones panned to left/right stereo. One rank hung directly over the strings, resulting in a dry, close-up sound not unlike what we hear in jazz recordings. Another was positioned a few feet from the piano in a configuration close to Gould’s “standard” set-up. The third rank occupied a slightly distant position, while a fourth was placed far from the piano, facing the studio’s back wall.

Gould intended to mix the tracks and manipulate the acoustic perspectives in order to enhance the music’s structural, gestural, harmonic, and timbral details. He described testing the introductory measures, using the distant perspective for opening bass rumbles, followed by the fast upward arpeggios “zooming in” to a close-up, then pulling back to the standard pick-up for the opening theme proper. Gould never got around to completing the project, although the pianist made use of “acoustic orchestration” in his 1976/77 Sibelius recordings.

Eventually a conventional two-track mix of the Scriabin came out after Gould’s death. For this release, producer Paul Théberge went back to the original Scriabin eight-track tapes to carry out his own conjectural acoustic orchestration. Except for the dry-sounding, closely-miked sequences, the ambient changes are subtle and yield more tonal heft and dynamic impact in relation to the aforementioned conventional mix. Gould’s measured tempos emphasize linear clarity and continuity as opposed to the mercurial moods and galvanic sweep we associate with Richter or Horowitz. I also suspect that Gould ultimately regarded these sessions as an experiment rather than a finished product, largely because of the rhythmic inaccuracies atypical of Gould’s fastidious studio standards. Furthermore, it is hard to ascertain whether or not Gould’s flattening out of Scriabin’s dynamic contrasts and hairpins was intentional.

It’s particularly instructive to experience Théberge’s mix on a video file, where you can follow the score and observe the mixing-board levers change positions in real time. The video appears on a CD-ROM along with four WAVE audio files for each respective microphone rank. This allows for technically minded listeners to import the files into an audio program like Garage Band or Pro Tools and create their own mixes. However, no amount of acoustic orchestration can take away from the contrivance of Gould’s swooning, inflated Sibelius interpretations, as he attempts to transform these stark yet unpretentious pieces into monuments. Needless to say, piano mavens interested in the recording process and Gould’s most ardent fans will find this release fascinating.

-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 5 in F sharp major, Op. 53 by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Glenn Gould (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; Russia 
Pieces (2) for Piano, Op. 57 by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Glenn Gould (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; Russia 
Sonatinas (3) for Piano, Op. 67 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Glenn Gould (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912; Finland 
Kyllikki, Op. 41 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Glenn Gould (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; Finland 

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