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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
English Suites vol. 1
Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806
Suite No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 807
Suite No. 3 in F Major, BWV 808
Glenn Gould, piano
Rec: March, April 1971; May 1971; June 1974, Eatonís Auditorium, Toronto, Canada.
SONY SMK87765
[52.02]
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This disc contains the first three English suites, which are part of one of Bachís three sets of suites (the others are the partitas and the French suites).

As usual, one never ceases being surprised by the variety of effects Gould puts into these works. The courante I of the first suite, for example, is played with such precious, slightly dotted staccato, that one can almost hear a harpsichord. But the courante II that follows breaks with this - except for Gouldís tasteful ornamentation - returning to a more normal rhythm. Gould imbues this suite with a feeling of melancholy, which is in contradiction with its major key; he manages, through his subtle playing, to give it the sound of longing and loss. Gould is much more consistent in the tempi of the various movements in this suite than in many cases. It almost sounds as though he is exploring variations on a theme, rather than playing a group of dance movements that are thematically related. But his performance of the sarabande slows down, taking the music to a new plane of emotion, as he almost deconstructs the music, playing with light, delicate touches.

Glenn Gould often recorded Bachís keyboard works in several sessions. The first English suite was recorded in March and November 1971, but the second was entirely recorded on one day in May of the same year. While with some of the suites one can hear the differences in tuning or recording, this suite has a much more homogeneous sound to it. One can feel, in the prelude, a true Gouldian moment - it sounds here as though Gould is perfectly at home in the type of music he likes best: that driving, contrapuntal sound that allowed him to pluck out the notes with vigour and brashness. He seems to take this music as his own and shout it out to the microphone as if it were a war-cry. He maintains this energy throughout the piece, closing with a rousing, blazing gigue that caps this brilliant demonstration.

The third suite was recorded much later, over two days in 1974. Gould seems to have settled down a bit; his brashness is replaced by confident mastery of the thematic material. His touch is lighter, and his phrasing looser. His trademark staccato playing is still present, but it is closer to "playing without legato" as he often called it. Gould slows down, as often, for the sarabande, almost caressing the notes in short, sweet phrases with ornaments that go beyond merely highlighting notes to become an essential part of the melodic structure of the movement. He eschews any strict tempo for this movement, instead moving ahead almost at will.

Yet another essential Bach recording by Glenn Gould. More than many works, Gould seems imbues these suites with his profoundest personality. A gem.

Kirk McElhearn


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