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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in F Major, BWV971 “Italian” [13:08] (a)
Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV825 [11:31]
Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV826 [15:17]
Concerto in F Major, BWV971 “Italian” [15:40] (b)
Concerto in D Minor after Alessandro Marcello, BWV974 [9:51]
Chromatic Fantasy in D Minor, BWV903a [6:18]
Glenn Gould (piano)
rec. Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City, USA, 22-26 June 1959 (BWV826, 971-a); Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City, USA, 1, 8 May and 22 September 1959 (825); Eaton's Auditorium, Toronto, Canada, 29-30 August 1981 (971-b); Eaton's Auditorium, Toronto, Canada, 11 June 1979 (974); Eaton's Auditorium, Toronto, Canada, 11 October 1979 (903a). ADD
SONY CLASSICAL GREAT PERFORMANCES 88697 00814 2 [72:05]



This disc is pure joy. Glenn Gould may not be everyone's favourite pianist, but he understands Bach's writing and brings to it a freshness and directness that you just cannot find anywhere else. He has won legions of adoring fans who swear by him and no other. I am not among their number. I confess a preference for Bach on the piano over Bach on the harpsichord, but my taste in Bach pianists runs from Richter to Ashkenazy, Schiff to Hewitt. Still, this disc stands very high in the ranks of Bach piano recordings and deserves a place in every good Bach collection.
 
Gould recorded the Italian Concerto twice and both versions are included here. His earlier recording fairly leaps out of the speakers, bright and sparkling. Gould's sharp articulation and preference for a dry, immediate acoustic may not please all listeners, but he certainly allows every note to register and every line, melodic and counter-melodic, to emerge as if freshly minted. The first movement has great rhythmic snap and clean articulation. Lest you begin to think Gould is more machine than man, he turns in a poetic performance of the slow movement – not free verse, granted, but beauty in structure and form. The finale crackles with excitement, taken at such a clip that it almost seems to carry Gould away with it.
 
The 1981 remake is noticeably the work of the same pianist but, as with his 1981 remake of the Goldberg Variations, there are differences in approach. The slow movement is taken much slower and breaths heavier air, each note needing that much more time to register. Though the tempo of the first movement is similar to that of the earlier version, the finale is not quite as rapid. Which is the better version of the two? That is for you to decide and precisely the reason that both accounts are included.
 
The two Partitas, the first pair from Bach's set of six, are a well chosen coupling. They were the original disc mates of the 1959 Italian Concerto, and offer as a strong contrast between the upbeat major tonality and busy writing of the first Partita, and the more contemplative minor tonality of the second. After the opening prelude, from the second track of the first Partita until its sixth and last, I just want to dance. And that is just as it should be, because the Partitas are, by definition, dance suites. Gould points the rhythms so strongly and with such verve that it is all I can do to not tap my foot when listening to this in public. The final giga in particular is riotous good fun. The second Partita loses nothing in strength of conception and fleetness of foot.
 
Gould's performance of the Concerto after Marcello was new to me. The first movement bristles with martial pride under Gould's razor sharp articulation. Here, as elsewhere on this disc, you can hear him humming away to himself in the background. The sombre second movement is deeply felt, and the finale is bright.
 
The disc closes with the Chromatic Fantasy, a cheeky bit of programming from the boffins at Sony. This is BWV 903a. Half a piece. No fugue. The Chromatic Fugue, which follows Chromatic Fantasy, was the one piece by Bach that Gould could not stand. He never recorded it. Having made that decision, Gould performs the Chromatic Fantasy as if conceived as a self-contained piece that needs no encore, the final notes fading away into a quiet resolution.
 
The production values of this disc are high. The sound has been cleaned up a good deal and the DSD remastering gives the recordings even more presence than they have had in the past. This factor, and the usefulness of having both of Gould's versions of the Italian Concerto together on one disc, will probably be enough to lure collectors into duplicating their recordings one more time. The booklet contains a number of pictures of Mr Gould and liner notes from the original 1960 LP release of the Italian Concerto and the first two Partitas. A nice historical touch, this, but disappointing in that the commentary ignores the Marcello Concerto and the Chromatic Fantasy.
 
Gould's Bach performances should not be the only ones in your collection, but you really owe it to yourself to hear them if they have eluded you thus far. True to the branding, these really are great performances.
 
Tim Perry
 

 

 

 


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