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Zenph Re-Performance: Rachmaninov, Gould, Tatum

Beginning in 2007, audio software pioneers Zenph Studios began collaborating with Sony Masterworks to bring classic, but poorly recorded piano recordings from yesteryear into the modern digital age. The idea was to capture the full range of musical performance nuance for each note – volume, tempo, articulation, pedal action, etc. – using sophisticated computer encoding, and then to re-record the performance as "played" by a comparable acoustic grand piano fitted with Zenph reading computers and hardware. The result is a Zenph Re-Performance®, bringing state-of the art fidelity to timeless interpretations by the great pianists of the past. The first two collaborations, Glenn Gould's historic 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations (2007) and a 1949 live concert of jazz wizard Art Tatum at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, as Piano Starts Here (2008) received rave reviews. Now the pair presents Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff, based on a set of recordings made by the great composer/pianist between 1921 and 1942 of five original works – including the famed Prelude in C#-, Op.3, No.2.

Classical Archives is pleased to offer a review of all three recordings, presenting each album in its entirety, along with a brief description of the processes involved. In addition, the Rachmaninov and Gould presentations are adorned with a fascinating set of select comparative recordings – both between the Zenph Re-Performances® and the original recordings, as well as between the interpretations of these two piano titans and those of other great pianists in our collection. Enjoy!!

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Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff – Zenph Re-Performance
Sergey Vasilyevich Rac...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 26 Length: 1:18:04

Sony Classical
Rel. 22 Sep 2009
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$9.99

The most recent addition to the Zenph-Sony partnership is the album Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff, featuring a set of thirteen tracks, recorded between 1921 and 1942, of his original compositions and transcriptions – including such favorites as his Prelude in C#-, Op.3, No.2, and the arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble-Bee. For this Re-Performance®, Zenph fitted their digital software to a 1909 Steinway D acoustic grand powered by the SE reproducing system, implemented by Richard Shepherd of Live Performance, Inc. This 2009 release marks the 100th Anniversary of Rachmaninov's US recital debut. As with the other two recordings, the Sony release presents the full album program two times, the first in standard (redbook) stereo, and the second in "binaural stereo", re-creating the aural experience that the pianists themselves might have had.

Classical Archives presents the complete new Sony Masterworks release, along with several fascinating comparative recordings. We first present comparisons between Zenph Re-Performances® and the original recordings (re-mastered in 1989) on three tracks: Rachmaninov's Prelude in C#-, Op.3, No.2, and his arrangements of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble-Bee and Kreisler's Liebesleid; we then offer comparative recordings of Rachmaninov's performances and those of other famed pianist on two tracks: Etude tableau, Op. 33, No.2 (Vladimir Horowitz) and Moment musicaux, Op.16, No.2 (Vladimir Ashkenazy). Finally, we present an excerpt from the liner notes by Max Harrison, author of Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings.

Liner Notes (excerpt)

Besides being a great composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) was also a marvelously accomplished and original performer on the piano, an instrument which has never lacked outstanding players. He cut gramophone recordings between 1919 and 1942, a period during which many improvements were made in the quality of recorded sound. Yet by twenty-first century standards Rachmaninoff's work for the gramophone sounds relatively primitive, thin and lacking the full resonance of which the piano is capable. These Zenph re-performances, which completely eliminate the technological limitations of the past, use computerized captures of attacks, key-speeds, pitches, durations, plus interpretative nuances including those added by Rachmaninoff's always subtle pedaling. And all this is done on a 1909 Steinway concert grand in optimum condition such as the composer always played himself.

These re-performances are programmed in the order of their original recording. Indeed the sequence begins and ends with Rachmaninoff's paraphrases of items by his friend Fritz Kreisler, "Liebesleid" and "Liebesfreud." These are in both pianistic and harmonic terms elaborate, sophisticated settings of what initially were simple tuneful encore pieces. The perfumed luxuriance of such performances immediately establishes what an extraordinary pianist Rachmaninoff was and each gives a bewitching demonstration of the real meaning of rubato.

Excerpt from Liner Notes by Max Harrison
Author of Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings
From the Sony Masterworks recording:
Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff – Zenph Re-Performance

Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff Comparison
Play the comparison
or select individual tracks from below
Transcription of Kreisler's 'Liebesleid', for piano, TN iii/5 4:22
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Transcription of Kreisler's 'Liebesleid', for piano, TN iii/5 3:49
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2.Prelude in C#- ('The Bells of Moscow') 3:44
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2.Prelude in C#- ('The Bells of Moscow') 3:46
Play
Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee from 'The Tale of the Tsar Saltan' 1:14
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Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee from 'The Tale of the Tsar Saltan' 1:14
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No.2 in C 2:17
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No.2 in C 2:26
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2.Allegretto in Eb- 2:55
Play
2.Allegretto in Eb- 3:05
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Glenn Gould in Re-Performance

Bach: Goldberg Variations – Zenph Re-Performance
Glenn Gould

CDs: 1 Tracks: 64 Length: 1:16:46

Sony Classical
Rel. 29 May 2007
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$9.99

The first undertaking in the Zenph-Sony Masterworks collaboration was an ambitious one: the iconic 1955 recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations by the enigmatic piano legend Glenn Gould. Gould's original Columbia recording has always been a big seller, and continuously in print, but as the engineers at Zenph noted, "it was locked forever in monoaural sound." It was this sonic limitation on such a historically important recording that motivated the engineers at Zenph to apply their unique technology to the original recording, and first present it to the world. The debut took place on September 26, 2006 in a broadcast on Canada's CBC radio, before a live audience – with a 9-foot Yamaha Disklavier Pro piano, expertly voiced by Marc Wienert to match the original 1955 recording; the same day the Re-Performed Goldberg was recorded for Sony Masterworks by an expert team of engineers and producers. The results were most favorably reviewed, such as in Audiophile Voice: "I cannot over recommend this recording too highly."

Classical Archives presents the complete 2007 Sony Masterworks release, Glenn Gould in Re-Performance, again with several fascinating comparative recordings. We first present comparisons between Zenph Re-Performances® and the original 1955 Columbia recordings on three tracks: the Aria, Variation 1 and Variations 5; we then offer comparative recordings of Variation 7 (Murray Perahia), Variation 8 (Jenö Jandó), and Variation 9 (Alexis Weissenberg). Finally, we present an excerpt from the liner notes by Kevin Bazzana, author of several books on Gould, including Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould.

Liner Notes (excerpt)

This disc, the product of cutting-edge musical hardware and software and the most sophisticated modern recording techniques, offers something at once tantalizing and startling: a new recording by Glenn Gould, made twenty-four years after his death: his 1955 interpretation of Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations. That album, released in January 1956, was a watershed in Gould's career, and it offered a dazzling new kind of Bach playing on the piano – probing, nuanced, uncommonly transparent, but also thrillingly virtuosic, rhythmically dynamic, tonally ravishing. The reviews mostly ranged from enthusiastic to awestruck; critics pronounced Gould a genius, a Wunderkind, one of the greatest and most promising pianists of his generation, even the greatest. The album became a bestseller – it made a once esoteric harpsichord piece something like a household word – and has never been out of print. The hype surrounding its release, focused on Gould's eccentric personality as well as his pianism, unleashed a storm of publicity in the spring of 1956 that made him an international celebrity, the most talked about and photographed young classical artist of the day.

But the Goldberg album was also trapped in the sound-world of the 1950s. Walker calls it "one of the last great mono recordings," and it offered an irresistible challenge: Zenph could show off its process no better than by making a convincing re-performance from a familiar and admired interpretation by a pianist renowned for precise finger work and fussy recording standards. The results had a splashy début in a live re-performance at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, on September 25, 2006 – what would have been Gould's seventy-fourth birthday. The spectacle of an invisible Gould immaculately reproducing his most famous interpretation on stage "made the hair just stand up on your arms," Walker says, and it deeply impressed – and moved – some of Gould's friends and colleagues. The present recording was also made at Glenn Gould Studio, shortly thereafter, with Gould's former tuner, Verne Edquist, consulting on the preparation of the piano.

Excerpt from Liner Notes by Kevin Bazzana
Author of Wondrous Strange:
The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

From the Sony Masterworks recording:
Bach: Goldberg Variations – Zenph Re-Performance

Glenn Gould in Re-Performance Comparison
Play the comparison
or select individual tracks from below
Variation 1 (a 1 clav.) 0:45
Play
Variation 1 (a 1 clav.) 0:45
Play
Variation 5 (a 1 o vero 2 clav.) 0:37
Play
Variation 5 (a 1 o vero 2 clav.) 0:37
Play
Variation 7 (a 1 o vero 2 clav., al tempo di giga) 1:08
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Variation 7 (a 1 o vero 2 clav., al tempo di giga) 1:47
Play
Variation 8 (a 2 clav.) 0:45
Play
Variation 8 (a 2 clav.) 1:44
Play
Variation 9 (canone alla terza a 1 clav.) 0:38
Play

Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here

Classical Archives currently does not explicitly process Jazz (though admittedly there are a number of jazz recordings that have made their way to the site). That time will come, however, as plans are in the works for us to handle Jazz, Film music, Broadway, and World music – in the same conscientious and thorough manner in which we handle Classical; so stay tuned for that. But in the meantime, we are pleased to offer, as a special treat, the second of the three Zenph / Sony releases: a Re-Performance® of a live 1949 concert by jazz phenomenon Art Tatum at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. As with the other two recordings, the engineers and technicians at Zenph digitally recreated every nuance of Tatum's nearly un-human interpretations of mainly jazz standards, and then "re-recorded" them upon a 9-foot Yamaha grand, fitted with Disklavier Pro and other technology, and voiced to match the original piano by Marc Wienert using the high fidelity of modern recording.

The Zenph Re- Performance® was recorded before a live audience at the Shrine Auditorium on Sep. 23, 2007, and the resulting Sony release in 2008 was universally hailed by jazz critics. Tatum dazzles with a collection of jazz standards (such as Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me", Kern's "Yesterdays", Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady", and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", as well as an original number, "Tatum Pole Boogie"; he even offers one to the classical lover, with a stunning jazz adaptation of Dvořák's Humoresque in Gb (Op.101, No.7) – as you've never heard it before! There are no comparative recordings available for this CD (and who could compare to Tatum?), but we do have an excerpt from the liner notes by author and jazz musician Spider Robinson.

Liner Notes (excerpt)

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with his work, Art Tatum was a creature from another galaxy altogether, who from October 13, 1909 to November 5, 1956 lived here on earth disguised as a jazz pianist – an impersonation given away only by the stunning speed, dexterity and musicality with which he played, far beyond the capabilities of a normal human nervous system. (The biographical details of his human persona are easily found on the Web at zenph.com/Tatum – or just ask any piano player.) His pianistic prowess has not been exceeded to this day, and has been equaled only occasionally by prodigies like Oscar Peterson. He has been called the greatest instrumentalist on any instrument in any musical genre by numerous authorities including Mssrs. Horowitz, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Rubinstein, Basie, Peterson, Charles and Barron.

But while Tatum's legendary performances are still unequalled, the recording and playback technology of his time have long since been left in the dust. Anyone with a modern laptop can probably make better recordings, and certainly listen to them. Enter Zenph Studios. As with their acclaimed 2006 re-performance of Glenn Gould's The Goldberg Variations, they used great software, great skill and keen musical sense to convert the original performance into a digital high-resolution MIDI document which perfectly mimics the mechanical details of the performance itself: tempo, attack, touch and so on. While they were at it, they retroactively repaired some tiny errors caused by tape transcription to vinyl – incorrect speed, missing segments and the like. Then they used that MIDI file to instruct a Yamaha Disklavier Pro concert grand piano, producing a re-performance that is different from the original vinyl release only in its superior sonic fidelity and dynamic range, and in its slightly more accurate account of what Tatum actually played that night of April 2, 1949.

Excerpt from Liner Notes by Spider Robinson
From the Sony Masterworks recording:
Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here (Live at The Shrine) – Zenph Re-performance

Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here (Live at The Shrine) – Zenph Re-performance
Art Tatum

CDs: 1 Tracks: 26 Length: 1:15:52

Sony Classical
Rel. 3 Jun 2008
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Art Tatum Piano
1 Tea For Two 3:11
Play
2 St. Louis Blues, song 2:41
Play
Art Tatum Piano
3 Tiger Rag 2:17
Play
4 Sophisticated Lady 3:14
Play
5 7.Poco lento e grazioso in Gb 3:48
Play
6 Tatum Pole Boogie 2:28
Play
7 9.Someone to Watch Over Me 3:35
Play
Art Tatum Piano
8 How High the Moon 2:28
Play
9 Yesterdays, song (from 'Roberta') 3:23
Play
Art Tatum Piano
10 Willow Weep For Me 3:13
Play
11 The Kerry Dance 1:04
Play
12 Medley of Gerswhin Songs (arr. piano by Art Tatum) 3:53
Play
13 I Know That You Know 2:40
Play
Art Tatum Piano
14 Tea For Two (binaural stereo version) 3:11
Play
15 St. Louis Blues (binaural stereo version) 2:41
Play
Art Tatum Piano
16 Tiger Rag (binaural stereo version) 2:17
Play
17 Sophisticated Lady (binaural stereo version) 3:14
Play
18 7.Poco lento e grazioso in Gb 3:48
Play
19 Tatum Pole Boogie 2:28
Play
20 9.Someone to Watch Over Me 3:35
Play
Art Tatum Piano
21 How High The Moon (binaural stereo version) 2:28
Play
22 Yesterdays (binaural stereo version) 3:23
Play
Art Tatum Piano
23 Willow Weep For Me (binaural stereo version) 3:13
Play
24 The Kerry Dance (binaural stereo version) 1:04
Play
25 Medley of Gerswhin Songs (arr. piano by Art Tatum) 3:53
Play
26 I Know That You Know (binaural stereo version) 2:42
Play
 
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