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Great Pianists of the 20th Century - Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould, Byrd, Gibbons
Great Pianists of the 20th Century - Glenn Gould
Genres: Special Interest, Soundtracks, Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #2

Approaching a 2-CD, 150-plus-minute collection of Glenn Gould's piano playing that has no Bach is befuddling. Gould, though he was expert at dozens of composers' works, is remembered by many for his shattering 1955 reading...  more »


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Approaching a 2-CD, 150-plus-minute collection of Glenn Gould's piano playing that has no Bach is befuddling. Gould, though he was expert at dozens of composers' works, is remembered by many for his shattering 1955 reading of Bach's Goldberg Variations, whose spirit is strewn throughout these pieces by Berg, Byrd, Scarlatti, Prokofiev, and others. Gould's short performance career, which ended in 1964--when he was 32--is captured on this collection's earliest recordings: the Haydn and Mozart works (1958)--his Mozart infuriated aficionados--and Berg's Piano Sonata, op. 1. Gould always seemed to trot rowdily through the most staid works and then turn quickly paced works into taut, nervy splays of tension. Of greatest interest here are the crisp Byrd pieces, most unusual in their solo-piano dressing, and the Scriabin miniatures, which seem emotionally brittle and creatively about to burst. Gould ties, unties, and reties the Prokofiev securely, tightening its chromatic properties and keeping it dancing all the while. Sure, there's not a stitch of Bach here, but the music just makes its point all the more clearly: Gould's unleashing of notes was genius almost without regard to its subject matter. --Andrew Bartlett

CD Reviews

DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 07/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Everything from Gould is an event, of one kind or another. There is a popular representation of him as wilful and perverse, and while I can think of certain performances by him that could be described in that way, in general I find far less eccentricity in his playing than I do in Richter's, and absolutely none on these two discs. To support the stereotype of Gould the liner-note quotes some pompous huffiness and puffiness from Brendel, no less, and while I admire Brendel greatly I couldn't help thinking when I read that their dates of birth were little more than a year and a half apart that one main difference between them was that Brendel was born aged 45.

I would guess that the Mozart fantasia and fugue here will be the performance that most divides opinion. It is stern and forceful, and there is far more of my idea of Mozart in it than in a lot of the bijou tinkling I often hear. There is no Bach at all, and for that relief much thanks. Gould's wonderful Bach-playing is easily obtained elsewhere, as Ken Winters says in his excellent liner-note, and this set displays some part of his true range. The early 18th century is represented by three Scarlatti sonatas, a brief but memorable interest of Gould's. He does not try to reproduce the effect of the harpsichord as Horowitz memorably does, and in that respect he more resembles Lipatti and Michelangeli, although I doubt if you would mistake him for either. What I found particularly fascinating was the first 11 tracks on the first disc, a selection of pieces by Byrd and Gibbons, two composers especially dear to my own heart. Winters draws attention with great sensitivity to a strong `English accent' in Gould's renderings, although I hasten to add that this does not remind me in any way of the strange pseudo-English accent in which Gould spoke. The rest of the first disc consists of Haydn's E flat sonata # 49, for me the greatest of Haydn's piano sonatas, and for the first time I'm hearing a performance that is a serious rival to my iconic account by Serkin at his 75th birthday concert in the Carnegie Hall. I have another performance of it by Gould in the series of Haydn sonatas that he did not live to complete, but this one is enormously better. The slow movement is simply wonderful, and Gould's lightness of touch conveys the power of the expression without a certain solemnity as from Serkin. I am greatly in favour of the slow tempo he takes in the finale this time, and while I don't yet think he quite equals Serkin in giving a sense of wintry unease, this is a different way of doing the same thing and I could yet change my opinion. In the first movement Gould's playing, just as playing, is quite wonderful, but for me it's too fast - brisk risking being brusque. And what neither he nor any other player I've ever heard can equal is the sublime suppleness and resourcefulness of Serkin's rhythm in the upward scale theme that dominates the movement. Gould omits the repeat (as in all the Scarlatti sonatas), and this is a pity. I am no stickler for repeats, but this leaves the first movement as half the length of the second, which is not a reflection of its significance.

The second disc takes us into the 19th and 20th centuries. The Bizet variations and the Strauss suite of 5 pieces are new to me so far as I recall. Winters quotes with some scepticism Gould's view that the Bizet is one of the few masterpieces for solo piano in the third quarter of the 19th century. I suspect Gould has a point. By 1850 Schumann was in the grip of mental illness, Chopin and Mendelssohn were dead, I react unfavourably to Liszt, and apart from Brahms I would have a job naming many solo piano masterpieces in the ensuing 25 years. Gould's performance is simply awesome, and I hear a certain wondrous tone-quality that I otherwise associate only with Michelangeli. Time will tell whether it's really Bizet or only Gould who is impressing me, but right now I'm impressed. The Strauss pieces are charmers - what did I expect? Berg is the friendly and approachable face of atonalism, and this performance probably could not be bettered. Ditto the Scriabin and Prokofiev. These are composers I have a special liking for. Gould has the idiom of Scriabin to perfection, like Horowitz and Ogdon and far more than Ashkenazy in the other Scriabin solos I own. The Prokofiev sonata is the piece that Argerich stunned me with when I first heard her 40 and more years ago. I don't have her performance on record, but if it was better than this it must have been even better than I remember.

The caption to this review is borrowed from the admirable Mr Winters. He and I would rather be sorry than safe, but I simply feel that the caricature of Gould as an eccentric, however true it may be of his personal comportment, is nonsense in respect of his playing. One oddity - there seems to be a settled mindset among record-producers that classical virtuosi don't know their own names. Most of my records of Arthur Rubinstein call him Artur and most of my records of Pau Casals call him Pablo. I even have a record of Serkin that designates him Rudolph. Gould's highly legible signature has one n, not two, in his first name. If that makes him sound like some brand of highland malt whisky it's a brand to which I am thoroughly addicted."
kheinkel | New York City | 02/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There is, apparently, no end to the argument over which pieces should or should not have been included in this recording. But if one looks strictly at what it actually contains, the album provides a pretty thoughtful representation of Gould's non-Bach output and is an interesting compilation of music in its own right.About half of Disc 1 is devoted to English virginal music by Byrd and Gibbons which Gould identified as some of his favorite music in the keyboard literature. The Scarlatti pieces are full of sparkle and imagination, and suggest that Gould might have become one of the greatest interpreters of Scarlatti's sonatas if only he had recorded more of it. So compelling is his take on the ones in D major and G major that they may never again be equalled. The Mozart Prelude and Fugue in C major is right up Gould's alley, and does quite an admirable job of filling in by proxy for the missing Bach works that previous reviewers lamented. The Haydn sonata that rounds out Disc 1 was performed toward the beginning of Gould's career at Columbia Records and stands in stark contrast, interpretatively speaking, to his re-recording of the same piece at the very end of his life.Disc 2 begins with Bizet's Chromatic Variations, a rather anachronistic piece in Gould's discography because it provides a rare glimpse of Gould-as-virtuoso, replete with thundering octaves and shimmering scales. Richard Strauss was a composer whose piano works were championed by Gould against popular opinion, and whose music was - like that of Byrd and Gibbons - very dear to Gould's heart. The Scriabin pieces are beautifully sculpted, suggesting once again the unrealized potential in that particular slice of keyboard literature. The Berg sonata had been part of Gould's repertoire since his teenage years or earlier, and harkens back to his "Hallmark" recordings of the 1940s and 50s prior to his professional debut. Gould makes the Prokofiev sonata sound as if it's demonically possessed, such is the vitality of his playing in that piece.In short, this album demonstrates that Gould's mastery of the keyboard repertoire extended considerably beyond the preludes and fugues of Bach. He could play absolutely anything he wanted to, so complete was his musical knowledge and piano technique, and we are fortunate that he was allowed that freedom."
Boo Philips! Boo Sony! Yay Gould!
qironzh | 11/02/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Gould is a great pianist, but this set misrepresents his work and shows just how dull record-label executives can be when they put their minds to it. First, why is there only one Gould set, but three for such pianists as Horowitz and Brendel? He was at least as good; obviously Sony didn't want to deal. If so, why include Gould at all. Why wasn't Philips honest enough to write that Sony is (likely rightly) trying to keep Gould's Bach to itself?Second, Sony could have come up with a cleverer compromise, or Philips could have suggested one. For example, Gould in concert almost always played Bach's three-part inventions without the two-part ones. The Sony disk has them both, but they could have parted with the three-parters to give the buyer a taste of Gould's Bach. Why not one or two of the Partitas, number five and six perhaps? (They were originally released together.) Or some excepts from the W.T.C.? Third, the very fact that Philips has to compromise should have given them a chance to give us a set of brilliant lesser-known recordings. The Bizet and Haydn are by far the best examples on this set. But Gould's English Baroque recordings are very tedious. He, himself, said that the pieces sounded better in his mind than on record. Philips had a chance to introduce the buyer to Gould's Beethoven sonatas Op. 27, both of which are great. And why not include his delightful transcription of Wagner's 'Meistersinger'?They had a chance to be clever and they chose to be dishonest and tedious, but they cheated the buyer. So don't buy this set. Buy his Goldbergs &c. on Sony."