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CD: MDT AmazonUK

Glenn Gould in Concert 1951-1960
Track-listing at end of review
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA 6038 [6 CDs; 72:15 + 69:58 + 70:29 + 69:27 + 64:37 + 76:58]

Experience Classicsonline

Collectors should know, straightaway, two things; firstly, that these six discs are priced as four, and second that the set contains approximately five hours of previously unreleased Glenn Gould material. Gould aficionados may be familiar with those performances that have seen the light of day - the Bach Clavier concerto No.5 in Toronto in 1957, the 1951 Weber Conzertstück, and Beethoven’s Op.109 sonata from Vienna. Probably the best known live performances of all in this category are the collaborations with Leonard Rose and Oscar Shumsky from 7 August 1960. Just before this boxed set was launched Sony issued the Emperor Concerto with Krips, though as is made clear in the documentation, West Hill compiled it independently of the Sony CD. Which leaves a plethora of material making its first ever appearance, much to the delight, joy and possible consternation of Gouldians far and wide.

As for the pianist himself, doubtless he would have scowled to Kingdom come. But if concert performances were a torture for him, they are a luxury for us. These discs mark a great day in Gould Studies, and they have much to tell us about the pianist and his by-and-large rectitudinous performances during the years covered by this set – 1951-60.

Though it might be more schematic to break down this box by composer or genre, I’ll take things as they come and discuss them disc by disc. The first opens with that iconic piece of Gouldiana, the Goldberg Variations. Whether a previous live Canadian performance is your Gould of choice here, or maybe the two commercial recordings of 1955 and 1981 or whether – like me – you revere the live Salzburg from the same year as this Vancouver CBC broadcast - this latest example of his art will still have you enthralled. His deftly ‘over pointing’ left hand chatters throughout the first canon, whilst his tempo for the second canon borders on the insatiable. He uses more rubati than usual in the seventh variation, sounds very rushed and excitable in variation 13, taking the repeat in a blaze of moans. He, as ever, refuses to indulge the Black Pearl, makes a few slips in 26, and takes a good complement of repeats (both halves) in the Quodlibet before the Aria da capo. On the question of repeats he is, as usual, very much his own man, usually dispensing with them but on a handful of occasions taking a first part repeat. This splendid performance is full of drama, caprice and life.

On the first disc we also hear the D minor Clavier concerto in Stockholm with Georg Ludwig Jochum conducting. The piano is not quite as much in perspective here, but the music’s realisation is powerful, and rhythmically infectious. The cadenza is especially fine and with Jochum bringing out the sentient tone of the lower strings things are set fair for a resilient, communicative reading. By comparison I find the Fifth concerto (CBC Symphony/Nicholas Goldschmidt, September 1957) rather stolid and, especially in the opening movement, more than a little foursquare.

The second disc gives us more Bach, adding Haydn and Mozart. The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto comes from Detroit in October 1960. The flautist is Albert Tipton, the violinist is the distinguished Mischa Mischakoff, and Paul Paray directs the city’s orchestra. The music-making is at a very high level all-round and there’s playfulness as well as command from Gould in the opening movement where he dispatches the mighty cadenza with breathtaking command. Mischakoff and Tipton blend and fuse tones knowingly, and the central movement witnesses some ineffable chamber playing wisdom from all three men. The fourth voice is, literally, Gould’s as he moans along with his two partners. Haydn is represented by the E flat major sonata, Hob.XVI:49, direct from the Vancouver International Festival, July 1958. Gould certainly relishes the quirky timing of the first movement, bringing great drama to the proceedings, and he brings an almost proto-Schubertian sense to the slow movement. Then it’s back to another concerto, Mozart’s K491. Gould said some silly things about Mozart, and much worse he did some adolescent things to his music. But he got on with this concerto, which he recorded with the CBC Symphony and that master accompanist Walter Susskind in 1961, a couple of years after this New York broadcast. Directing that city’s Philharmonic was Leonard Bernstein, with whom Gould forged a significant musical partnership. Despite not especially liking the concerto – he called it ‘not a very successful concerto’ – Gould plays it splendidly. Together the two men sculpt a powerful landscape, with Gould filling in some of the piano lines. He plays the Hummel first movement cadenza and two little cadenzas of his own in the slow movement.

On the same bill as that Bach Brandenburg in Detroit was Beethoven’s Second Concerto, of which work Gould was a professed admirer. He mutters and chunters along as usual, but he detonates lithe left hand bullet points, playing throughout with great clarity, rhythmic impetus and real understanding. The slow movement is warmly phrased and there’s plenty of brio, humour and fun in the finale. This is a special example of Gould’s sense of enjoyment, an antidote to his somewhat clunky spoken humour. Both the Stratford Festival chamber works have been out before, and so these 7 August 1960 performances with two of America’s greatest string players, Leonard Rose and Oscar Shumsky, have been admired before now. Hearing these performances again has been an enriching experience.

Beethoven and Weber occupy disc four. The Emperor was given on 6 November 1960 in Buffalo where Josef Krips was to be found on the rostrum. This is, perhaps unusually, a highly effective mediation between the work’s more bombastic, showy elements and its refined lyric impulses. If such a mediation appeals, then Gould’s way – not self-regarding but also not over-refined, simply powerful when necessary and introspectively limpid too – will appeal greatly. His chops are magisterial when the occasion demands and he phrases with reverence in the slow movement. I like the transition from slow movement to finale – it’s nearly in the Wilhelm Kempff class – but even more the little fillips with which he galvanises the rhythm. The shame here is the ridiculously over-recorded percussionist, and this turns the thing into a concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra. Weber’s Conzertstück op.79 receives an eventful, intelligent reading, though he’s not as insistent on a legato-staccato approach as is, say, Claudio Arrau – to take another live performance from around this time. Ernest Macmillan conducts. The Piano Sonata in E major 109 completes the trio of works in this fourth disc. Taped in Vienna in 1957, it’s a puzzling affair. Gould gets increasingly querulous, hectic and undisciplined in the first compact two movements. Then, in the Andante molto cantabile, he veers between poetic insight and stop-go disaffection.

The fifth disc brings us two concertos. The first is Brahms’s First which was later to be the work with which he hit the headlines on that famous occasion when he performed it with Leonard Bernstein in New York. The problem was not simply its distended length; it was also the smoothing out of dynamics. The thing became very lateral, though when I last heard it, for review purposes, it was remarkable how performers have caught up with Gould, as it were, at least in tempo terms; it often sounds just as marmoreal and slow now, as it did with Gould then. The good news is that it doesn’t in this 1959 broadcast in Winnipeg with Victor Feldbrill. The orchestra is not first-rate – the horns are particularly not first-rate - but Gould is. He has power in reserve, shapes phrases dynamically, takes a good tempo, avoids didactic point-making, and characterises well, especially the restless unease of the central movement. This serves as a corrective to the later performance, and a reminder that Gould’s ideas were not set in stone.

Gould and George Szell had an interesting, sometimes combative professional relationship. In the end however Gould preferred to work with Louis Lane in Cleveland, and it’s Lane who directs the Schoenberg Concerto (Severance Hall, November 1959). It’s never an easy listen but this performance really brings colour, zest and tensile control to the table. Listen to the lower brass and percussion in the second movement Allegro to appreciate the level of commitment evinced by all concerned, not least in the vehemence and seeming reconciliation of the closing Giocoso.

The final disc brings more Schoenberg, but solo this time. The Three Piano Pieces Op.11 were recorded at the Schoenberg memorial Concert in Toronto on 4 October 1952. The source material is Gould’s own private recording, now housed in the Library and Archives in Ottawa. Gould brings out the silence inherent in the music as much as its rhythmic charge and powerful asperities. He also played the Suite for piano at the same concert, bringing to this very different work a staunch acerbity. He’s joined by mezzo Kerstin Meyer for the 15 verses from The Book of the Hanging Gardens Op.15, a really impressive collaboration, watertight in ensemble, and wholly dedicated. Webern’s Variations Op.27 was taped in Leningrad in 1957, as was Krenek’s Third Sonata. The former is famously spare, indeed laconic, whilst Krenek’s sonata is far more garrulous; both however find Gould wholly sympathetic to their very different demands.

It must be clear by now that this is an outstanding set. It has an extensive and excellent essay by Kevin Bazzana, who has written extensively about Gould, not least in the shape of two books. The booklet is also illustrated with well produced black and white photographs of Gould. A must for Gouldians, and indeed others too.

Jonathan Woolf

Track-listing

CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations [37:13]
Vancouver Festival, 23 July 1958*
Clavier Concerto No. 1 in D [23:38]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Georg Ludwig Jochum, 15 October 1958*
Clavier Concerto No. 5 in F [11:20]
CBC Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Goldschmidt; Toronto, 11 September 1957
CD 2
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D [21:30]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray, 13 October 1960*
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI:49 [17:11]
Vancouver, 23 July 1958*
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C, K. 491 [31:12]
NYP Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein, 4 April 1959*
CD 3
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 19 [28:52]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray, 13 October 1960.
Cello Sonata No. 3 in A, Op. 69 [21:22]
with Leonard Rose (cello), Stratford; 7 August 1960
Trio No. 4 in D (“Ghost”) [19:51]
with Oscar Shumsky (violin): Leonard Rose (cello), Stratford, 7 August 1960
CD 4
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (“Emperor”) [38:51]
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/Josef Krips: 6 November 1960.
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E flat, Op. 109 [15:02]
Vienna, 7 June 1957
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Concertstück in F, Op. 79 [15:29]
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Ernest MacMillan, 6 March 1951
CD 5
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 15 [45:13]
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra/Victor Feldbrill, 8 October 1959*
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Piano Concerto, Op. 42 [19:17]
Cleveland Orchestra/Louis Lane, 26 November 1959*.
CD 6
Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11 [15:25]
Toronto, 4 October 1952*.
15 Verses from “The Book of the Hanging Gardens” by Stefan George, Op. 15 [26:17]
Kerstin Meyer (mezzo), Vancouver, 2 August 1960*.
Suite for Piano Op. 25 [12:56]
Toronto; 10 April 1952*
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Variations, Op. 27 [4:06]
Leningrad Conservatory, 19 May 1957*
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Piano Sonata No. 3 [18:52]
Leningrad Conservatory, 19 May 1957*
Glenn Gould (piano), solo or with accompaniments as above
All dates notated as month/day/year. * = Previously unreleased. Set includes approximately 5 hours of unissued live recordings


 


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