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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Ballades Op. 10
Intermezzi;
Op. 76 Nos. 6 in A major and 7 in A minor
Op. 116 No. 4 in E major
Op. 117 Nos. 1 in E flat major, 2 in B flat minor and 3 in C sharp minor
Op. 118 Nos. 1 in A minor, 2 in A major and 6 in E flat minor
Op. 119 No. 1 in B minor
Glenn Gould (piano)
Recorded 1961 (Intermezzi) and 1982 (Ballades)
SONY SMK87859 [72.16]



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Doubtless Gouldís admirers will think very differently but itís been something of a dispiriting experience listening to his Brahms. Heíd apparently never even played through the Ballades until these, amongst his final recordings, made in 1982 and which were released posthumously. Iíve followed the somewhat confusing details in the notes for dating the Intermezzi; for once in this series, usually impeccable, Sony has omitted recording details.

The process of assimilation by which Gould came to learn the Ballades is rehashed in the oh-so-whimsical Platonic dialogue constructed by Michael Stegemann as his notes to this issue that partly derive from Gouldís interviews and writings. Whether Gould had indeed internalised the Ballades is a moot point but Iím afraid I shall have to pass over them quickly; they are discursive, etiolated and distended, undifferentiated and fractured.

As for the Intermezzi, a grouping of ten, amongst which can be found some of Brahmsí most overtly intimate music I have broadly similar conclusions. The E flat major is very slow with no relaxation into the piu adagio central section, ironing out contrast. The B flat minor is directionless with muted dynamics and once more painfully and point-makingly slow. I canít locate any sense of con molto espressione as indicated and the performance of this and other Intermezzi is the more astonishing in the light of Gouldís reported comments on the "aristocracy" of his playing here (unless he equated aristocracy with coldness and indifference). Itís true that there are hints of a deeper Gould Ė the C sharp minor Op. 117/3 is a case in point and he rises to something of a passionate climax in the E flat minor but this is vitiated by a ponderous tempo. The E major from Op. 116 is not especially slow but it doesnít need to be when the sense of generic facelessness is so pervasive. Clearly Gould sees the Op. 76 No 6 in A major more in terms of con moto than Andante con moto as marked. Its perversely hectic drive is to me mere point making abstruseness. He simply doesnít shape these pieces with any sense of conviction, instead reducing them to opacity and formlessness. Count me out.

Jonathan Woolf



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