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Gould & Gulda: Piano Works
Friedrich Gulda and Glenn Gould were two of the most controversial and fascinating pianists of the 20th century. Although justifiably famous for their musical abilities, they were also noted for their unique personalities. Both were notorious for their eccentricities, and their original compositions for piano reflect their specific innermost urges and interests. For Gulda, jazz was the inspiration for his cycle Play Piano Play while for Gould, his Sonata drew its inspiration from the great masters of polyphony and the Second Viennese School. Sasha Grynyuk, born in Ukraine, studied at the Guildhall School for Music and won its prestigious Gold Medal. Subsequently he was named 'Rising Star' by the BBC Music Magazine, and he received the Guildhall's Wigmore Prize. Charles Rosen found him to be, ''an impressive artist with a remarkable and unfailing musicality, always moving with the most natural, electrifying and satisfying interpretations.''
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"So You Want to Write a Fugue" was written by Gould for the finale of a 1963 television special titled "The Anatomy of Fugue", when Gould was around 31 years old. It was performed by four singers (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) accompanied by a string quartet. It was meant to illustrate the fugue form for a 1960's TV audience, but, Gould being Gould, he loaded the piece with his musical opinions and ideas. He paired "every good theme [with a] really strong countersubject," as he explained in interview a decade later, and ended it with what he called a "demolition of a fugue" (i.e. a deconstruction).
As originally recorded, it's a fun piece, but its jokey lyrics doomed it to the status of novelty. Like all novelties, one does not want to listen to it more than a couple times. Which is why Grynyuk's piano transcription is so welcome. Grynyuk takes Gould's composition (one of his precious few) and rescues it from novelty status by removing the voices and staying true to the contrapuntal, Wagnerian melodies and counter-melodies in the piece (Grynyuk's rendition sounds much like Gould's own transcription of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg on Glenn Gould Conducts & Plays Wagner). Unlike the original, this is a version I can listen to over and over.
The other Gould pieces are juvenilia dating from 1948-1952, when Gould was around 16 to 20 years old. Gould later designated his string quartet as "Opus 1", indicating that he did not see these early piano fragments as genuine contributions to his oeuvre. Gould's "Five short pieces" (1950) each clock in under a minute, and sound like exercises in twelve-tone composition. Interesting, but unsatisfying and impossible to really appreciate in their 30-second chunks. These were also recorded by the pianist Vestard Shimkus on a disc included with a biography of Gould (I believe certain editions of Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould). Gould's "Two Pieces for Piano" (1951-52) are just as short and unsatisfying. There is a recording of these pieces on Glenn Gould - The Composer by pianist Emile Naoumoff, but Grynyuk plays them in a much more Gouldian manner than Naoumoff (in other words, straight and clean; to paraphrase Gould, "there's an awful lot of piano playing" on Naoumoff's version).
Much more interesting, while at the same time serving as a tease of almost tragicomic proportions for the compositions Gould never got around to writing, are the fragments here of Gould's piano sonata, written around age 16. I have no idea about the manuscript history of this piece, but Grynyuk's three movements clock in around 10.5 minutes (an apparently greatly expanded version of the first movement appears on Glenn Gould - The Composer). There is some truly fascinating and moving stuff in here. One hears traces of Gould's lifelong influences like Schönberg and Hindemith, but also echoes of the melody from Gould's String Quartet Opus 1, and, crazily, something out of a 19th century piano hall in the end of the third fragment, where the left hand just provides thunder under the melodies of the right hand (the latter does not appear at all on Naoumoff's recording, and I'm unsure if Grynyuk added it himself, but it sounds damn good).
Finally, included here is Friedrich Gulda's 10-part "Play Piano Play", around half an hour of classical-ed up jazz. I'll leave it to future reviewers to tackle that one.
Overall, a thoughtful and unique disc that does much honor to Glenn Gould's legacy. Bravo, Mr. Grynyuk.