Good as Gould
Friday, May. 03, 1968
Last week in Toronto, that happy hypochondriac Glenn Gould
was busy coming down with the flu, having dizzy
spells, getting massaged, guarding his private life, and communicating
with the world, as usual, only by telephone.
Everywhere, however, his latest batch of recordings—five, all
told—were pouring forth like gabby world travelers, which indeed they
are. Four years after his withdrawal from public concert life, Pianist
Gould is still pursuing one of the most remarkable careers in recording
history. First, there is his initial installment of Book 2 of The
Well-Tempered Clavier, dazzlingly executed, imaginatively shaped,
proving more than ever that while Gould's Bach is invariably different
from anybody else's, it invariably has its own kind of rightness. Then
there are Mozart's first five piano sonatas, which he spins out in enthusiastic,
masculine, superclassical style. This performance helps
offset Gould's hyperbolical habit of denouncing Mozart in interviews
("Anyone who has to write 28 symphonies before he can write a good one
can't be much of a musician").
Liszt's Fifth by Beethoven. In his concert days, when he was not singing
along, Gould liked to conduct himself with whichever hand he could free
at any moment. So it is not surprising that he has finally got around
to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The piano transcription was written by
Keyboard Demon Franz Liszt, meaning that both hands are too busy for
shenanigans. Gould plays it in respectful dedication to both Liszt and
Beethoven. The Fifth is largely free of Liszt's frequent pianistic
bombastics and remarkably faithful to the original—save for an
occasional missing dissonance. "Liszt removed them," says Gould, "to
safeguard his reputation as the man who never pulled a false note."
Rounding out the package are the Schoenberg piano works, which Gould
plays with the sense of divine order and mystery that Gieseking used to
bring to Debussy; an excellent stereo rechanneling of the album that
launched Gould's recording career 13 years ago, the Goldberg Variations
("In those days, my tempi were souped up and rather breakneck"); and a
conversation LP in which he admits that his nine years as a recitalist
were "rather unpleasant, rather traumatic." In the time since, Gould
says that he has had "four of the best years of my life." It hasn't
been bad for his record fans, either.
The reviewer's name is not in evidence.
Admittedly there's not a lot here but in the second paragraph, apropos
Mozart Sonatas, the adjective 'masculine' is used which caught my eye
because I had just recently used it describing Gould's WTC to another
listener, who may have misunderstood what I meant - as she followed
up with "fire, brilliance", which is no extrapolation of the adjective
'masculine' as I understand it. That left hand of Gould's defines a very
particular world: adamantine, vigorous. Someone stop me before I go
too far but the 'brilliance' isn't the masculinity. There is something
gutteral and stroppy going on; he's gone down deep, stayed down
long and come up dirty and refreshed. Hail hail Mr. Gould.
Peter, go to Ivar's for some fish and chips.