This disc contains the last three English Suites, which
are part of one of Bach’s three sets of suites (the others are the partitas
and the French suites). While the first two suites were recorded mostly
in 1971, the third suite as well as the suites on this disc were recorded
in 1974 and 1976.
Gould continues in the same style as for the first
three suites, combining vigour and subtlety. He opens the fourth suite
with an energetic treatment of the prelude, then goes into an almost
pointillist allemande. The sarabande, as for most of these suites, remains
the central movement, where he shifts down a few gears, and discourses
with the notes, slowly, tenderly. The menuet I features some of Gould’s
most attractive ornamentation, and the second menuet is equally dainty
The fugal prelude of the fifth suite gives Gould a
chance to change his tone. He is no longer forcing the music from his
fingers energetically as in most of the other preludes, but sculpting
the fugal material with broad strokes. He approaches the sarabande differently
as well, giving it a strongly stressed rhythm, with the left hand playing
forceful yet brief notes to structure it. Gould continues in this vein,
giving this suite the lightest touch of all six English suites.
The final English suite, the sixth in D minor, opens
with what is one of Bach’s longest movements in any of his suites. This
prelude, almost eight and a half minutes long, is an entire suite in
itself. Gould is in no hurry to begin this movement, and rightly so.
He seems to construct his performance like a series of movements within
a movement. He plays the first sections lightly and delicately, with
florid ornamentation, maintaining a mellow tone, until he breaks into
the third, contrapuntal section, where the energetic Gould takes over,
his touch stronger, his rhythm more pronounced. The subsequent development
of this movement is luminous, and, at the end, you may almost want to
turn the music off to appreciate how self-contained it is. The rest
of the suite is just icing on the cake.
Like the first volume of the English suites, this second
volume is an essential recording, both for the works and as a part of
Glenn Gould’s discography. Another gem. One of the finest recordings
of these works on piano.