> JS Bach - Toccatas Vol. 1 [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccatas vol. 1 (1704)
Toccata in D major BWV 912
Toccata in F sharp minor BWV 910
Toccata in D minor BWV 913
Toccata in C minor BWV 911
Glenn Gould, piano
Rec: October, November 1976, May 1979, Eatonís Auditorium, Toronto, Canada.
SONY SMK87764 [54.05]


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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 virgin sound.

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 energy.

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.

Kirk McElhearn


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