Glenn Gould in Concert, 1951-1960

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Haydn,JS Bach,Mozart,Schoenberg,Webern and Krenek,y Beethoven
LABELS: West Hill Radio Archives
ALBUM TITLE: Piano Concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schoenberg; plus piano works by JS Bach, Haydn, Webern and Krenek
PERFORMER: Glenn Gould (piano); various artists
CATALOGUE NO: West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6038

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This set of discs constitutes the most important piano release since Philips’s great Sviatoslav Richter Edition in 1994. Most of the material on these CDs has never been released before, and those few items that have been are in much superior sound here. Furthermore, the long notes by Kevin Bazzana, who has written two books on Glenn Gould, are unfailingly helpful and penetrating, and don’t shirk criticism where necessary.

Notoriously, Gould loathed concert performances, and came to feel that he had performed badly, inadvertently playing to the gallery, and thus often too fast. But in general speeds here are no faster than they were when he recorded in the studio. These discs cover the period from when he was 18 to 27, and he hadn’t yet developed the acute mannerisms which many people find hard to endure in some of his later recordings. What, alas, he did do from the start was hum or sing, even growl, along, and that is picked up all too faithfully in some of these performances.

Whatever caveats the reviewer needs to enter, it must be said that there is a great deal of quite wonderful music-making here, including of works which Gould recorded commercially in objectionable ways.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K491, for instance, the only one of those sublime works which Gould could bear, here gets a powerful, deeply moving performance, with Leonard Bernstein accompanying ham-fistedly, while Gould’s commercial recording is a disgrace. Similarly with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, which Gould came to abominate, is impossible under Leopold Stokowski on CBS, but here, in 1960, with the great Josef Krips accompanying, it is glorious, though there are idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to.

Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony partner him in JS Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto with radiant results: Gould’s playing of the first movement cadenza is some of the most extraordinary pianism I have ever heard. Gould shows himself to be a fine collaborator, too, in Beethoven’s Ghost Trio with violinist Oscar Shumsky and cellist Leonard Rose. Gould disliked what he saw as the combative element in the great Romantic concertos, but nonetheless the 1959 performance of the Brahms No. 1 is remarkable, and far better than the notorious account with Bernstein.

The last disc and a half are devoted to what was then almost contemporary music, of which Gould was a magnificent exponent. His playing of solo works by Schoenberg and Webern, as well as his account of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra show a passion to communicate – as wasn’t always the case with Gould. And the performance of Schoenberg’s great song cycle The Book of the Hanging Gardens with mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer shows him an ideal accompanist – for this work.

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The sound here is not great, but it is almost never obtrusively bad. This is a set to live with. Michael Tanner