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Positive Feedback ISSUE 32
july/august 2007


Glenn Gould, Bach: The Goldberg Variations 1955 Performance.
by Robert H. Levi


Zenph Re-Performance, Sony Hybrid SACD Surround and Stereo/CD/Binaural Performances, Sony Classical 88697-03350-2

Oxygen please! Talk about technical sophistication, here lies the ultimate yet devised. You know its 2007 when an extraordinary 1955 mono performance can be re-performed and recorded [the performer is dead] to ultimate perfection and taste. This is right out of StarTrek folks …consider yourself a visitor on the holodeck when you buy this disk! Just close your eyes.

First of all, the 1955 performance is the very best Bach Goldberg ever performed and recorded. Gould recorded it once again in 1980 just before his death, but its not quite as exciting and impromptu. Zenph, in participation with Sony and Yamaha, took the 1955 master tapes and digitized them for the Pro Yamaha Concert Piano. This technique has 10 times the resolution of standard Yamaha home player technology.

Every note and its decay was compared to the tapes and adjudged correct. The Zenph encoder ignores all sounds except the individual musical notes! The Pro Yamaha Player Piano, tuned by Gould's original piano tuner from his recoding days, was set up in the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Ontario. The recording was made directly to DSD in September, 2006, on Gould's 74th birthday. By the way, the disk is stocked in quantity at all Border's stores where I bought mine.

I was not able to listen to the surround mode…I'll leave that for others. I did audition all the other modes. The SACD Stereo mode is stunning. Richly hewed mids, sparkly highs, quick deep bass, all make this mode the very best of the bunch. This disk, on a top reference system, will sound quite alive and harmonious. You'll hear you are there sound with fantastic beauty of tone. May be the best SACD piano recording I've ever heard. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

The CD layer is less entrancing. Oh yes, it is very musical and winning, unless you have heard the SACD stereo layer. It has less sparkle, less midrange power and layering, and very fine bass. It sounds just a bit compressed and a tad more distant. Your system may change these perceptions somewhat, as the CD layer is quite excellent overall. This is as realistic a recording as CD sound usually allows, though I've heard better. After a while, using the E.A.R. Acute CD Player, I did forgot which disk layer I was listening to.

Hey headphone fans, this disk has a second recorded section done with a dummy head! The head is placed at the piano bench where Gould would have sat then raised a few inches. This is quite unconventional placement, but what fun. The Neumann KU-100 Dummy Head has s small omni mic at each ear. The goal was to be able to hear the performance the way Gould did plus minimize stereo spread to be more natural on headphones. I tried it on my Grado RS1s and Stax 006ts. Fabulous! You actually get a sense of mic position and focus. The sound is very interesting and harmonious. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it is maximally enjoyable and it works. I also liked the standard SACD stereo through the headphones even a bit more, as I don't really care about imaging through headphones though you certainly may.

Now for the really big news! No humming! The computer obviously hears Gould's incessant humming as noise and eliminates it. Bravo! The Sony Gould Goldberg Re-Performance disk is an unqualified success and a must own. Enjoy.

Performance A+

Recording SACD Stereo A+

Recording CD Stereo A

Recording Dummy Head Binaural A