Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D minor BWV 1052 [24:16]
Partita No.5 in G major BWV 829 [10:03]
Partita No.6 in E minor BWV 830 [23:06]
Well Tempered Clavier Book II; Fugue in F sharp minor BWV 883 [3:21] and
Fugue in E major BWV 878 [4:23]
Glenn Gould (piano)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
rec. 1957, Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.112049 [65:09].

Naxos is trawling through Gould’s legacy, embracing a rich seam of admittedly very well known recordings. This one conjoins the Concerto in D minor with two Partitas and adds as encores two Fugues from the WTC Book II. There are interesting differences in transfer policies regarding the Concerto in particular. I last heard it in Sony’s own transfer on SMK87760, which was one volume in a retrospective, and included Concertos BWV 1055 and 1056 as well, conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. Sony decided to tame the original, rather strident 1957 mono from Columbia’s 30th Street Studios. The result was – dread word in transfer circles – ‘mellow’ and decidedly Middle C. Naxos’ Mark Obert-Thorn has respected the original artefact rather more and presents a starker and drier beast altogether. This approach catches the precision of Gould’s entries and his tonal qualities with more fidelity, even at the cost of what is to us a somewhat unsympathetic orchestral string tone. Yes it’s more ‘sec’ but it’s truer to the original recording as well – brighter, sharper, less emollient, less cushioned and cloudy.

As for the performance this was something of a divergent case once again. The two musicians never seemed quite to see eye-to-eye on anything but their performances are always of optimal interest despite this. Gould’s clarity and sense of rhythmic energy, that inner dynamo that was his Bachian motor, was not something shared by Bernstein. This is at its most obvious in the slow movement where Gould, expressive and beautiful in his own way, is accompanied by a fatter weight of string tone than is ideal or, in the circumstances, proper. Still, the finale is vital and energising.

The G major Partita shows us Gould on marvellously imaginative and communicative form. The Preambulum is full of articulacy, the Sarabande duly serious. His vocalising is at its most insistent in the Minuetto where his descant really goes to town. The companion Partita is the E minor, whose compelling sound world is immediately established via Gould’s brilliant playing of the Toccata. Despite the fact that Gould was recorded close-up, his playing transcends such aural limitations as one finds, by virtue of its multi-faceted and compelling concentration. The Sarabande is full of introspective intimations and one can bask in the culminatory power of his Gigue. There is something especially noble and elevated too in his playing of the E major Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier.

Jonathan Woolf

Gould’s clarity and sense of rhythmic energy, that inner dynamo that was his Bachian motor.