> JS Bach - French Suites [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suites

Suite I in D minor
Suite II in C minor
Suite III in B minor
Suite IV in E flat major
Suite V in G major
Suite VI in E major
Glenn Gould, piano
Rec: February, March, May 1971, November, December 1972, February 1973, Eatonís Auditorium, Toronto, Canada.
SONY SMK87764 [60.34]


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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 he played.

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.

Kirk McElhearn

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