Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op. 19 (1793 rev. 1794-95) [27:55] ¹
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1864) [37:23] ²
Glenn Gould (piano)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein¹
Montreal String Quartet²
rec. May 1957, Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC (Beethoven) and August 1957, CBC Studios Montreal (Brahms)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111341 [65:19]

The latest of the Naxos Gould restorations takes us to the 1957 recordings of Beethoven and Brahms made with Bernstein, in New York, and with his compatriots, the Montreal String Quartet.

The ramifications of the collaboration with Bernstein are never as problematic as their famed un-meeting of minds over the First Brahms Concerto. Instead we find that the Gouldian passagework is fluid, albeit a touch light, and that fluency is uncompromised by any quirks. One could, I think, successfully argue that his playing remains somewhat emotively colourless, but this is a question of degree. What’s not in doubt is that the conductor’s orchestral introduction to the slow movement has an overtly stentorian expressivity that contrasts quite dramatically with the soloistic response that follows. Initially Gould seems to collude in this higher sphere of romanticised expression but it soon emerges that divergence is more the order of the day. Neither musician sufficiently accommodates the other here – fascinating for what it says and also doesn’t say about their meeting. Maybe the most successful movement is the finale, though I find it rather unsmiling, a little grudging perhaps.

Similar questions afflict the Brahms but to a much greater degree. Gould was generally a bad Brahms player. Here we find him skirting tonal questions in furtherance of his own proscribed timbral and expressive response to the music – and the result is a reading of circumscribed and determined caution at odds with the tenor of the music itself. This communicates itself to the string players. The result is the obverse of a performance by, say, the Budapest Quartet. Which may, or may not, have been Gould’s point, but if it was, it wasn’t one worth making. The aesthetic here is chilly and even the first violin, the otherwise excellent Hyman Bress, can’t (or isn’t allowed to) impart more tonal warmth into his phrasing. For the record the other quartet members were Mildred Goodman (violin), Otto Joachim (viola) and Walter Joachim (cello).

One for Gouldians.

Jonathan Woolf