This disc contains the first three English suites,
which are part of one of Bach’s 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 Gould’s 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 Bach’s 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.