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 with the Columbia Masterworks
label on the front of the CD package.
This recording contains four of Bachís toccatas for
keyboard. Curiously, Gould, who is identified so closely with Bach,
did not like these pieces at all, and, but for his desire to record
all of Bachís keyboard music, would probably never have recorded them.
Yet this takes nothing away from Gouldís performance of these works,
which, like many of his Bach recordings, stands out from the masses.
While one may say that these are mere workmanlike recordings, a spirit
of improvisation comes through, which is naturally close to the actual
origin of toccatas as improvisations. The opening sections, which correspond
roughly to preludes, are played loosely and flexibly, such as that of
the F-sharp minor toccata, where Gould frees himself from any rigid
rhythmic constraints and allows the music to take charge. His flexibility,
both in rhythm and dynamics, gives the opening to this toccata a brilliantly
Gould complained about the fugues in these works that
were "ungainly" and "interminably repetitious, rudimentarily
sequential, desperately in need of an editorís red pencil". Yet
here again, Gould takes these fugues into interesting territory. The
rousing fugue in the D minor toccata is full of energy and force; Gould
plays this piece with, as often, no legato, giving it a very rigid sound,
which detracts slightly from hearing the individual lines, yet this
way of playing also brings out relationships that are otherwise unheard.
The soft adagiosissimo section in the middle of the
D minor toccata, which Gould approaches as though with gloves on, sounds
as if Bach himself is just noodling around on the keyboard. This subtle
effect, which is nearly impossible to express, comes across perfectly
in Gouldís recording. When he comes back to the next fugue, it is as
if his spirit has been awakened from hibernation, and the music roars
forth in joy and excitement.
The listener who might be surprised by Gouldís restraint
in these works will feel right at home when the pianist launches into
the fugue at the beginning of the C minor toccata, just after the prelude.
Gould here plays with his usual vigour, with a rapid tempo, and unbridled
Glenn Gould, who claimed he did not like the toccatas,
gives here a unique performance. With a light touch through much of
the works, he shows a different side of the music from that which is
most commonly heard. This ends up being one of his best Bach recordings.