Glenn Gould Edition - Beethoven: The 5 Piano Concertos

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Visionary accounts of Beethoven's Concertos. The Fourth Concerto is guaranteed to turn body and mind into a single erogenous zone, while the Second is given a wonderfully uncomplicated performance high on musical intelligence and untrammelled vitality.

Finally, Glen Gould. And it is astonishing to discover that neither his 1957 recording of the Second Concerto nor his 1961 recording of the Fourth has previously been available in the UK. Which only goes to show that certain prophets are not without honour save in their own country and in quite a few other places besides.

Gould once wrote of the Beethoven concertos: "It was in the Fourth Concerto that the ultimate of condensation, of unity with the solo exposition, of imagination, and of discipline was attained". And, my goodness, how that idea is realized here in a performance (conducted by Bernstein) of quite exceptional trenchancy and musical cosanguinity. (A technical miracle given the impossible layouts and sight-lines imposed on the players by the Manhattan Center; the ensemble here is actually better than it is in the far less problematic Emperor, also recorded—under protest from Gould—in the Center.)

Gould learned the Fourth Concerto, as he frequently confessed, from the old 1942 Schnabel recording on RCA. He even found himself using the 78rpm side-breaks as chapter-ends in the evolving musical argument. So pervasive was the Schnabel influence, as a lad of 13 making his debut at the Toronto Conservatory, Gould tried to cover his tracks by superimposing a certain "brisk, Serkinesque dispatch" with a smattering of "Casadesusish élan". All this: and yet in 1961 Gould came up with as original and idiosyncratic an account of the Fourth Concerto as any that has been put on record.

To many it will instantly be ruled out by Gould's obsession with the left hand, his numerous unusual voicings and his frequent splitting of chords. But none of this is arbitrary. Rather, it is an elaborate exercise in scholarly exegesis firmly centred on Gould's preoccupation, not with the concerto's melodic elements, but with its structural-harmonic ones. It is, if you like, a lecture-recital on the concerto, with special emphasis on its myriad harmonic constituencies. The first of Beethoven's first movement cadenzas is hair-raisingly deft ("Schnabel lives!" I hear Gould cry) but elsewhere deliberation is of the essence. The slow movement is astonishingly slow but utterly spellbinding. Only in the furthest reaches of the finale is there any hint of Bernstein starting a tempo war with his all too absorbed soloist. Throughout, the playing and the wonderfully immediate and full-bodied CBS recording, give the work a physically thrilling, three-dimensional feel. This is a performance that spells out the concerto—imagines, articulates and physically celebrates it—in a way guaranteed to turn body and mind into a single erogenous zone.

The other performance "new to the UK" (shameful phrase) is of Concerto No. 2. Here Gould and Bernstein conjure up a wonderfully uncomplicated performance high on musical intelligence and untrammelled vitality. As in Concerto No. 1, Gould plays the slow movement with sustained inwardness, at the same time preferring a somewhat etiolated manner in some of the solo statements. For the rest, Gould is in something of a brown study in the first movement of the Third Concerto. (He was never happy with the music's structure, and to some extent it shows.) The Emperor with Stokowski is quirky in its "martial melancholy" (Gould's phrase), but hardly "quirky to the point of absurdity" (EG's judgement at the time of the original release). A less absurdist Emperor it would be difficult to imagine.

Deryck Cooke found Gould's 1958 account of the First Concerto with Golschmann and the Columbia SO "austere". True, there is a cool Northern beauty about the Largo, but the outer movements are unusually brilliant. Gould's quick tempos in the first movement shows particularly sound musical instincts; though the cadenza, a Reger-like fugal fancy of Gould's own devising, may be a shade academic for some tastes.

-- Gramophone [4/1993]

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 23, 2012

  • Catalog Number: SONY 52632

  • UPC: 074645263229

  • Label: Sony

  • Number of Discs: 3

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Conductor: Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Vladimir Golschmann

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: American Symphony Orchestra, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic

  • Performer: Glenn Gould