Glenn Gould would have been 70 years old in September
2002, the time of this release. His untimely death shortly before his
50th birthday deprived the musical world of a unique, often controversial,
talent. Gould is probably best known for his recordings of Bachís solo
keyboard music, and Sony Classical has re-released all of these recordings
in remastered versions. The Columbia Masterworks label adorns the front
of each CD package.
This disc contains Bachís French Suites, some of his
most popular music. Gould surprises - as he often does - with a dazzling
variety of tempi in these works. From the breakneck opening allemande
of the first suite, he plays a delicately slow sarabande, and a subtle
menuett I where the rhythm is almost picked out note by note. Gould
said, "About tempo, Iíve never understood why itís such a big deal."
He points out how, for this recording, his tempi had slowed down considerably
- he had his favourite piano rebuilt, and the weight of the action led
to much more legato than he would have truly liked. But he said that
this recording was "as deliberate and dry as any Bach" that
he had recorded. Curiously, this is sometimes the case - while some
movements are very fast, recalling the 1955 Goldberg Variations, others
are slow and deliberate.
But listening anew to Glenn Gould play these pieces
elicits such pleasure that one leaves aside the question of tempo. From
the forceful gigue in the first suite and the brilliant allemande that
opens the third suite, to the melodic yet syncopated approach to the
menuett-trio in the same suite, to the almost excruciatingly slow sarabande
of the first suite or the pointillist sarabande of the fourth suite,
this disc is full of surprises. The music here is often reduced to its
simplest expression, and is even more ascetic than many harpsichord
performances. It is almost as if Gould is trying to turn his piano into
another instrument. Yet the results show that this excellent pianist
was able to transcend the music and put his personality into everything
The sound on this recording is very good, though the
remastering would have to be compared with the previous version to discover
any major changes. One point about the packaging: the notes are brief
and only in English, and are very sloppy - typos abound throughout.
Gould gives one of the most personal performances of
the French Suites available on disc. He is one of those musicians you
either love or hate - either you appreciate the variety of tone and
rhythm he uses, or you detest his lack of regularity. This recording
remains one of the landmarks in the discography of the French Suites.