Glenn Gouldís talent cruelly severed by his untimely
death shortly before his 50th birthday deprived the musical world of
a turbulent and ikonic talent. Fortunately Sony Classical are now reissuing
these recordings using the latest technology.
This disc contains all the recordings Glenn Gould made
of the various fugues from the Art of the Fugue, Bachís most
dense and contrapuntal work, which is built around a basic theme that
is developed in different ways through a series of fugues and canons.
Here Gould plays some of the fugues on organ, and others on piano. This
disc is a hotchpotch of different recordings from different eras; three
of the fugues were even recorded in mono in 1967.
The first part of this disc is quite a surprise - while
Glenn Gould was not an organist, he did study the instrument for many
years. This was Gouldís only organ recording, and it certainly does
not stand out as a memorable interpretation. Gould admits that he did
not practise on the organ before recording them; he only practised on
the piano. This explains his almost total lack of legato (this is less
apparent in the faster and denser sections) and his very limited used
of the pedals. Gould indeed plays the organ as he does the piano, but,
in spite of his non-organ style, there is something to be said for certain
of the fugues. The lack of legato sounds good at times, such as at the
beginning of the fifth fugue, and, after the second voice comes in,
there is a hint of legato. Gould eschews the grand sound of the organ,
instead importing his own universe, and, while not a successful recording,
it is certainly interesting.
But the piano recordings drastically change the tone
of this disc. Gouldís approach to tempo and dynamics are very surprising.
The first fugue is heard fading in on the disc as if from a distance,
with the first notes played pianissimo, and the dynamics slowly increasing.
The tempo of this work is almost ethereally slow. As compared to other
recordings, Gould takes nearly five minutes whereas it is usually played
at three to three and a half minutes. The second fugue shows a totally
different side of how this music can be played, with an almost syncopated
rhythm and a much faster tempo. The fourth fugue features a drive and
energy that, in spite of the muted dynamics, brings the piece to life
in unexpected ways. Gould shows a great deal of sensitivity to these
fugues, and no matter what his approach, one can appreciate that there
is a logic behind his way of playing.
Perhaps the highlight of this disc is the 14th fugue,
the unfinished fugue, that Gould said was, "the most difficult
thing Iíve ever approached." Recorded for Canadian television,
this long fugue (over twelve minutes) is one of the most intense recordings
Gould ever made. Beginning slowly and softly, his trademark humming
adding an additional voice to the fugue, Gould develops this piece with
such intensity that it is almost unforgettable.
Even though this disc contains some weak interpretations,
the quality of the fugues played on piano, especially the 14th fugue,
make it an essential disc in any Bach discography.