The tragedy of Glenn Gould as concert pianist is seldom discussed. He faced crippling performance anxieties he could not overcome, and abandoned his flourishing career in his early thirties. He then commenced to become even more famous in his subsequent life as a combination recording artist, CBC arts producer, music journalist, and general Toronto eccentric.
Here we have the Glenn Gould most of us never knew, the concert artist, in some five hours of previously unreleased recordings. All of this material is unedited, taken from radio broadcasts or private
recordings: it is raw Gould, so to say, with the occasional smudges and wrong notes common to all pianists, from an artist who in later life insisted on zealous control of his work, in his bid for edited perfection. The performances are from Canada, the USA, Russia, Austria, and Sweden. Gould biographer Kevin Bazzana has supplied lengthy biographical notes, in extremely small print. The release itself is Canadian/German and cryptic, except for a clear warning
label: “Not available in the USA.”
A 1958 Vancouver Festival performance of — guess what? — Bach’s Goldberg Variations opens this boxed set. The Aria dances with tremendous musicality and contrapuntal verve. It feels more elastic and personal than the famous Columbia debut release of 1955.
Variations 29 and 30 are electric and wild, and played interwoven as one.
There’s a wonderful performance of the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony, with an aching slow movement. We tend to put Gould in a cerebral, clinical camp of
pianism: not here.
With the same conductor and orchestra — on the same night, no less!
— Gould then teamed up with the DSO’s concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff and principal flutist Albert Tipton for a splendid, warm performance of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. Gould’s long solo cadenza, written by Bach, is muscular and songful.
Other treasures abound, including a gentle reading of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 from a Vienna recital, Schoenberg’s intimate, spiky Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra, and some gorgeous Beethoven chamber music from the Stratford Festival.
There’s an oddly dreary Gould performance of the Brahms First
Concerto — with a fine Winnipeg SO led by Victor Feldbrill — that then roars to life for our hero in the finale.
Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer joined him for Schoenberg’s song cycle “Book of the Hanging Gardens” at the 1960 Vancouver Festival. She tells us in the notes that Gould was a superb and deferential accompanist, who followed her “like a shadow.”
Sound quality throughout these CDs is so-so, yet very present and alive. Engineer Albert Frantz did the digital restorations: you know right away these are dated performances, but you also feel like a time-traveller, sitting in a good seat at each concert venue.
It is sad to recall that this brilliant young Toronto pianist of the 1950s could still be concertizing today, had he lived, and had he continued a normal path. Gould would turn 80 next year. He was a contemporary of Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Martha Argerich. But something went wrong, and Gould’s retreat into the recording studio brought a more mannered musical trajectory that still confounds many.
Strongly recommended! Order online from www.canadacd.ca ($52.99).