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The Glenn Gould Edition - Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
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Readers should know that I like Glenn Gould. His are not the only worthy interpretations of Bach, but they are indispensable if one is to get a broad and rounded picture of how this greatest of all composers is to be understood.
Gould learned Book One of the WTC from his mother. After he recorded it for Columbia (now Sony) he hardly ever played a selection from Book One again. On the other hand he made numerous recordings of various preludes and fugues from Book Two, both before and after his Columbia complete recording.
His interpretations are certainly unique. Comparing him with other great pianists you will find that he takes tempos that are slower or faster than more conventional versions. This drives some listeners crazy. For my taste I tend to prefer more individualistic performances, and therefore like Gould more than Schiff for example.
Other worthy interpretations of WTC are of course Edwin Fischer on EMI, Richter on Le Chant du Monde, and Schiff on Decca/London for comparison. Recordings of various individual preludes and fugues by Tureck are nearly always worthwhile.
The preludes and fugues of Book Two are a bit darker and more spiritual than those of Book One, and thus suited Gould's temperament more closely.Read more ›
The fugues are also remarkable for their clarity of line and the way Gould seems to effortlessly develop whatever it is that intrigues him in a given fugue. You can hear the joy in his playing as he plays a line which falls silent and then proceeds to work his way through a fugue's complexities toward the line's rebirth.
Although Gould critics often scoff at perceived idiosyncracies in his playing, I have difficulty believing that Bach - the master improviser - would not have approved of Gould's approach. The sprituality that one hears in Bach's cello and vocal works - a spirituality present, but to a lesser degree, in his keyboard works performed on harpsichord - is fully present in these piano performances.
It may well be true that Gould understood Bach better than any other pianist--his unexpected insights are certainly plentiful enough, however convincing they may or may not be. And Bach seems never to have been very specific about how he wanted his music played. However, a newcomer to this work would do well to begin with a more conventional reading. In the wrong hands the WTC's can be as dull as someone reciting the multiplication tables. Yet Gould's version, though faultless in execution and brimming with ideas, is just too distinctive, shall we say, to recommend as this work's bible performance.
I find the argument that we hear more of Gould than Bach in this recording amusing. I'd argue that most of the other recordings you will find on the shelves probably sound less like Bach than Gould's performance, but this I find, is in any case beside the point. In the days of Father Bach, improvisation was commonplace, and then we have the issue of the instrument (piano vs harpsichord). Few performers have looked into these issues deeper than Gould, but bottom line - I don't really care. I can fully hear Bach's intentions in his playing, and Gould's unique playing gives me plenty explore and get excited about.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Different than other performers but definitely worth listening to.Published 12 months ago by Eric Richard Zenk
We saw Gould's life story on American Experience on TV. This motivated us to order some audio to play at home. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Ronald B. Oertli
Gould was an icon. The term "et cetera" could never be used to describe any of his recordings. He was and will always be one of music's true originals. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Joseph Kline PhD, MD
Best training study, ever!
Aside from its specific background sound, the pieces are unique, for its Master!
Genius comes at a price...
I bought this CD for a class I took in college, and it really lived up to the professor's expectations. Read morePublished on April 4, 2013 by David