Brahms: Four Ballades; Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Ten Intermezzi

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1.0 out of 5 star rating 1.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: SM2K
WORKS: Four Ballades; Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Ten Intermezzi
PERFORMER: GLENN GOULD
CATALOGUE NO: 52651 ADD/DDD (Reissue, 1960/82)
It was his 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations (reviewed September) which rocketed the then 25-year-old Canadian pianist Glenn Gould to fame, instantly establishing him as a pre-eminent, if highly individual, interpreter of the music of JS Bach. Just over a year before his death more than a quarter of a century later, Gould re-recorded the work, and it is almost impossible to hear the slow reprise of the closing aria without detecting a poignant message of farewell.

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Gould rarely recorded anything twice but his view of the Variations changed markedly, as he signals with the slow tempo of the opening aria which takes 3:05 minutes in the 1981 version as opposed to 1:53 minutes before. The dazzling technical skill is, if anything, now even greater, but the exuberant freshness of the younger Gould is superseded by a more intellectual approach. Repeats are added and the counterpoint is projected with even more forceful clarity, but the most notable difference is that of greater deliberation. Gould succeeds triumphantly in being both analytical and moving at the same time and produces an interpretation as treasurable as its classic forerunner (Performance ***** Sound ****).

Applied to Brahms, Gould’s willingness to go to extremes in his 1982 recordings of the Four Ballades and Op. 79 Rhapsodies proves far more controversial and some may find the results little short of offensive. His tempi progress from slow to slow motion and he doesn’t so much interpret the music as disassemble it. The ten Intermezzi he recorded in 1961 are far less exaggerated, however, and the playing is both rapt and rhapsodic (Performance Ballades/Op. 79 * Intermezzi **** Sound ****).

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Hindemith’s three sonatas are unlikely to receive more committed performances than Gould gives them (Performance ***** Sound ****, and the Bach Two- and Three-part Inventions are highly recommendable despite some odd sounds from the middle register of Gould’s adapted piano (Performance **** Sound ****). His version of Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is an astonishing pianistic tour-de-force (Performance ***** Sound ****). David Michaels