FOR GLENN GOULD / GIBBONS: Lord Salisbury’s Pavan and Gaillard. SWEELINCK: Fantasia in D. J.S. BACH: Sinfonias Nos. 7, 8, 14, 11, 4. Partita No. 5 in G. Aria from “Goldberg Variations.” BRAHMS: Intermezzi: Op. 118, No. 2; Op. 117, No. 3. BERG: Piano Sonata / Stewart Goodyear, pn / Sono Luminus DSL-92220
Here is a tribute to the late Glenn Gould by Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear. To those of us for whom Gould was a living presence, and a pretty wacky one at that, the comment by Goodyear that he wasn’t even aware of Gould until the year of his death (1981) brings you up short. Of course, younger generations wouldn’t know Gould the way we did, as the guy who gave up concertizing at a young age because audiences bored him and he felt he could give better performances in the recording studio, the lifelong hypochondriac whose collection of prescription medications sometimes equaled his daily intake of food, the wacky cutup who once made a fake promo for CBC TV in which he dressed up as a dotty old conductor who couldn’t hold a steady beat, and the commentator who wrote extremely colorful reviews and articles for High Fidelity. It’s kind of like reviewing an album of tribute to equally wacky mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian by someone who only heard of her the year she died.
Oh, brother, what you missed!
Goodyear uses a piano that sounds more resonant than the dry-sounding Steinway model that Gould preferred (he spent an entire day in the Steinway factory and sampled close to 50 models before he found the one he liked), and occasionally seems to use the sustain pedal, although that might me a sonic illusion caused by the greater resonance of the recorded sound. Gould was so fanatic about having a dry, crisp sound that, when he made his few recordings on an organ, he insisted having the microphone placed right up against the soundboard of the instrument, which gave it a claustrophobic acoustic. But that was what he preferred. I told you he was eccentric!
I also noticed that Goodyear uses a wider range of dynamics than Gould did, playing the Bach Sinfonia No. 7 with a lighter, more delicate sound than he did the pieces by Gibbons and Sweelinck. Nonetheless, he does have a good grasp on the way Gould played, capturing his crisp attack and emotional impact. He asks in the liner notes if Gould was “cerebral or emotional?” Well, he was both. He only played music that appealed to him, but was emotionally convincing in that music. Never a fan of the harpsichord, he insisted on playing all Baroque music on the piano, and in doing so flew in the face of the then-burgeoning historically-informed practice movement. Yet, paradoxically, his Baroque performances were so utterly convincing that he opened the door for future keyboardists to continue playing Bach on the piano, even now in an era when harpsichordists, fortepianists and virginal players abound.
In only one instance did I feel that Goodyear didn’t quite capture Gould’s style, and that was in the “Tempo di Menuetto” movement of the Bach Partita, but that is a small thing. He’s certainly welcome to interpret the music slightly differently if he wishes. On the other hand, he perfectly captures Gould’s unusual approach to Brahms, which was resolutely unsentimental. Goodyear’s performance of the Berg Sonata captures Gould’s approach but, again, to my ears the piano is more resonant.
One final image of Gould before I wrap up this review. On YouTube there’s a video of him complaining that Strauss’ song Morgen is quite banal because, in his view, the music, and particularly the long piano opening of the piece, just sounds like some broken chords strummed on a guitar. He then proceeds to play it—quite beautifully. Finally he stops and says, “I just realized that I made this sound utterly convincing, but I assure you, I didn’t mean a note of it!”
That was Glenn Gould.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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