Chopin and Beyond - Friedrich Gulda
Chopin Pour Ma Douce
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne No. 17 in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1 [6:45]
Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Op. 60 [9:09]
Prelude Op. 28 No.15 in D flat major [4:36]
Prelude Op. 28 No.10 in C sharp minor [0:27]
Prelude Op. 28 No.9 in E major [1:18]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 3 in G major [0:57]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 4 in E minor [1:68]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A major [0:45]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 13 in F sharp minor [3:26]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 21 in B flat major [1:19]
Prelude Op. 28 No. 24 in D minor [3:20]
Berceuse in D-Flat Major, Op. 57 [4:28]
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Invocation and Visit of the Shadow [5:30]
Night Magic and Dance [7:47]
The Shadow Overcome [4:38]
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Limpe Fuchs (piano and other instruments)
Directed by Janos Darvas
rec. Münchner Klaviersommer, 1986
Bonus: Interview with Joachim Kaiser (1986) [36:13]
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Picture Format: 4:3
DVD Format: DVD 9 NTSC
Subtitles (Bonus): German (original language), English, French
Area Code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102190 DVD [106:00]
In 1999, Friedrich Gulda sent a fax to journalists from Zurich Airport announcing his own death from a heart attack. This elaborate hoax was eventually exposed, and it became clear that he had faked his demise with the intention of playing a Mozart concert in Salzburg several weeks later entitling it ‘Resurrection Party’. Gulda did in fact die the following year of heart failure and doctors this time had to produce a death certificate for journalists in order to verify the claim. This is just one of the eccentric aspects of Gulda’s musical career. Another time he played a duet with a girlfriend at a concert, appearing in the nude.
Like his fellow pianist Glenn Gould, who also led a bizarre and eccentric life, Gulda did not want to be hemmed in by convention. Yet, despite his waywardness I have always rated his pianism very highly. He excelled in Beethoven and recorded three distinctive complete sonata cycles. His 1950s survey of the complete Beethoven sonatas on Orfeo bears testimony to his great affinity for the Viennese classics. His Mozart playing is also a revelation.
The concert here was recorded live at the Münchner Klaviersommer in 1986. In the first part, Gulda plays a selection of works by Chopin here entitled "Chopin Pour Ma Douce" . In the second half, he teams up with Limpe Fuchs, who is described as a ‘composer of acoustic and visual happenings who creates sound with unusual instruments’.
Donning a striped blazer in true Butlin’s fashion, Gulda embarks on the Chopin selection. Listening to the opening Nocturne set alarm bells ringing for me. A mannered performance, it is marred by excessive rubato and being ‘pulled around’. Yet my fears were soon allayed. Once he had played himself in, the remaining Chopin works are peerless. In the Barcarolle he achieves a beautiful tone with exquisite voicing of chords, judicious pedalling and colouring. I did feel, however, that he misjudges Chopin’s ‘più mosso’ indication in the chordal section at bar 93, where he ratchets the tempo up too much. I found this jarring and misplaced.
There follows a selection of Preludes, delightfully realized. No. 15 ‘Raindrop’ is delivered with purity of tone and simplicity. I love the seamless semi-quavers of his G major Prelude (No.3) and the underlying pathos of No. 4. In the case of Nos. 21 and 24 I’ve never heard a performance with such passion and drama. As an encore he plays the Berceuse, imbuing it with a diaphanous, ethereal halo.
Curiously, throughout the Chopin selection, the camera picks out and dwells on a woman in the front row, who gazes adoringly at the pianist. This ‘loving’ gaze is reciprocated by the pianist at intervals with the odd knowing smile. Maybe the woman is Rita referred to in the booklet notes as ‘a vivacious, fun-loving romantic Hungarian’. The pianist explains: ‘We had a lot of fun together and she inspired me enormously …although we argued violently at times’. The romance apparently did not last and six months later he erected ‘a black gravestone to that lost dream’. The notes tell us that after that Gulda stopped wearing a tie.
Well, in the second half he isn’t wearing a tie and he has also divested himself of his jacket. Early on in his career Gulda professed a love of jazz and improvisation. Improvisation is the basis of this part of the concert entitled ‘Consonanza Personale’. Gulda had worked with Limpe and her husband Paul Fuchs from 1971 to 1978 in their group ‘Anima’. For this concert Limpe and Gulda are reunited. She explains: ‘As a result of our long collaboration as a trio, there developed a similar energy in our playing which he called consonanza personale. My virtuoso drumming technique was an excellent complement to his piano virtuosity…’. Watching the performance, one senses that the music is being spontaneously improvised. It opens with Gulda wandering around the stage blowing random notes on a recorder, whilst Fuchs bangs various drums and tubular bells, singing unintelligible words. Gulda then plays random sequences on the piano. So it goes on for another thirty minutes. I must admit that I found it totally incomprehensible, if not outlandish. It’s certainly not a recommendation for the faint-hearted.
A bonus is a 36 minute filmed interview the pianist had with the influential German music critic Joachim Kaiser, also from 1986. Gulda discusses the reasons why he has returned to playing Chopin after a hiatus of many years, when he had ‘filed him away’. The return was sparked by a re-acquaintance with his early recording of the composer’s E minor Piano Concerto. From this dialogue we glean some insights into his working relationship with the Polish composer. Gulda also discusses his love of jazz and improvisation. This improvisatory approach has had some bearing on his programmes of which he prefers not to announce the content before. He leaves it until the concert to make a decision on what he will play, thus allowing for some spontaneity.
Having watched the DVD twice, it is not something I would ever return to again. Whilst Gulda is a pianist to be greatly admired, devotees like myself must look elsewhere to see and hear the pianist at his best.
Eccentricity is not really my thing.