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The Glenn Gould Collection Vol. 16
Glenn Gould Plays Schoenberg

3 Piano Pieces, Op. 11; 6 Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19; 5 Piano Pieces, Op. 23; Suite for Piano, Op. 25; 2 Piano Pieces, Op. 33a and b.

Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, Op. 41
with Juilliard Quartet and reciter John Horton

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 42
with Robert Craft conducting the CBC Symphony Orchestra

Fantasy for Violin and Piano Accompaniment, Op. 47
with Israel Baker, violin

2 Lieder, Op. 1, with Donald Gramm, bass-baritone; 4 Lieder, Op. 2, with Ellen Faull, soprano; 6 Lieder, Op. 3, with Gramm (No. 1) and Helen Vanni, mezzo-soprano (Nos. 2-6); 8 Lieder, Op. 6, with Vanni; 2 Ballads, Op. 12, with Vanni (No. 1) and CornelisOpthof, baritone (No. 2); and--all with Vanni--2 Lieder, Op. 14; Das Buch der hängendenGärten, Op. 15; 3 Lieder, Op. 48; and 2 Lieder, Op. Post.

Glenn Gould, piano
Review By Joe Milicia

 

  Exciting news for Glenn Gould enthusiasts: Sony has released all of the often-controversial Canadian's recordings for the Columbia label in 20 multiple-CD volumes (two to six CDs each), with remastered sound, engaging new booklet essays, and handsome graphic design for the entire "Glenn Gould Collection." As anyone with even casual familiarity with Gould will expect, the first seven volumes are dedicated to recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach; but Gould's interests were very wide-ranging, though filled with gaps in much of the standard piano repertory. One of the Sony volumes is a 4-CD set collecting all the music of Arnold Schoenberg that Gould recorded between 1958 and 1971. (Gould had been performing Schoenberg since 1952, and gave the Canadian premiere of the Piano Concerto in 1953.) It's a fascinating, often thrilling compilation, with mostly excellent sound for the period.

The first CD contains all of the Viennese modernist's solo piano music, from the expressionistic Three Pieces of 1909 to the 12-tone but neo-classical Suite of 1921-23 and the later Op. 33 pieces (1928/31). Gould had recorded the Three Pieces in 1958, but all the rest was recorded in 1964-65 (in superior sound) for Volume 4 of Columbia's pioneering sets of the complete music of Schoenberg.

I confess to liking a more late-Romantic or feverishly expressionistic rendition of the Three Pieces than Gould's rather dry performance offers. Turning to another set of the complete piano music, the highly regarded one of Maurizio Pollini (1974; I heard the 1988 CD edition), I found the Italian's performance of Op. 11 too calmly inward. (Even Pollini's own CD booklet writer remarks that in the second piece "A slow and gloomy theme takes shape over a two-note ostinato in the bass and builds up to points of frenzy where the ostinato breaks OFF, as if the strain had become unbearable.") Where I found Gould excelling most was in the Five Pieces, Op. 23, where he is alert to every kaleidoscopic change in this constantly evolving music. (Pollini, on the other hand, is magisterial in the Suite, with wonderful energy and rhythmic incisiveness.) Remarkably, the timing for Gould's disc is a full 10½ minutes longer than Pollini's, in particular because of Gould's taking the Langsam [Slow] movement of the Five Pieces really slowly (4'32" to Pollini's 2'47") and with even more difference in the Gavotte-Musette-Gavotte section of the Suite. But I don't find Gould's tempi slack or enervated: only thoughtful and a little unworldly.

Disc 2 has the most varied music, though all from the 1940s: the Piano Concerto, followed by the violin-and-piano Fantasy and the utterly unique Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for a reciter of Lord Byron's poem supported by piano and string quartet.

There have been a number of worthy recordings of the Concerto, though I have a special fondness for this one, since I got to know the piece through it (originally an LP with the B side occupied by a concerto by another man with Viennese connections: Mozart's C Minor, K. 491; the pairing was Gould's own choice). The performance holds up very well, from Gould's wistful beginning through the orchestral buildup of tension through the first movement, the aggressive and sinister energy of the scherzo, the melancholy and passion of the slow movement, and the urgency of the finale. (The movements are played without pause in this 20-minute piece.) To be sure, the strings are a bit thin in this 1961 recording, but Robert Craft was one of the finest conductors of music of the Second Viennese School, and he and Gould maintain the rhythmic crackle the work needs. The CBC's muted brass have a nice Schoenbergian snarl.

The Fantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment (I'm using Sony's and Gould's "F" but the piece is usually listed with a "Ph," even in Sony's program notes) is a late work, from 1949. I must say that I find Israel Baker a bit strident and less varied in mood compared to Jennifer Koh in her 2003 Cedille recording with Reiko Uchida. (I haven't heard a broadcast performance with Gould and Yehudi Menuhin.) Incidentally, in the original program notes for the 2-LP set that included the Fantasy, Gould amusingly wrote that the piece began life as a solo violin rhapsody: "Melodically and rhythmically subservient to the violin, [the piano] interjects its understandably cranky comments at offbeat moments [that] will at least impede the fiddle's self-indulgent monologue.")

Lord Byron's Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte is a portrait of hubris: a mockery of, or even rant against, the Corsican's ambition to be supreme ruler, written after his exile to Elba in 1814. ("'Tis done! But yesterday a king…thou art a nameless thing!") One can easily imagine the refugee Schoenberg finding the subject of a conquered tyrant compelling in 1942. Melodrama — literally the spoken voice with musical accompaniment — is a mostly neglected genre in modern music, though Schoenberg throughout his career had created works calling for the half-spoken, half-sung delivery he called Sprechstimme. According to the excellent program notes by Michael Stegemann, which quote extensively from Gould's business correspondence with Columbia, Gould found the "deployment" of Canadian actor John Horton's voice "rather more deliberate and literal than I should have liked"." But Horton has a command of the poem and the tricky rhythms needed for integration with the musicians; and in places he adds an effective air of controlled hysteria, especially in the final evocation of a true hero, George Washington. Meanwhile, Gould and the Juilliard Quartet are stupendous — I hadn't remembered the performance being so exhilaratingly hard-driven.

Discs 3 and 4 are given to Schoenberg lieder — and here I must report the major drawback of this set, the absence of texts and translations. That said, Gould is a superb accompanist, or really partner, in these songs, from the stormy, Brahmsian Op. 1 pair to the twilight delicacy of the 15-song cycle The Book of the Hanging Gardens, with its lingering piano postlude. Gould's original intention was to record Schoenberg's "complete" songs, and did add to the collection a couple of recently discovered early works, Op. Post., but not some other very early works, namely the four German folksongs and many cabaret songs.

The earliest of the songs to be recorded (June 1964) were the four Op. 2 lieder with the somewhat disappointing soprano Ellen Faull, but all of the other music for female voice — 21 songs plus The Book of the Hanging Gardens — was entrusted to mezzo Helen Vanni, who has a lovely warm tonal quality and considerable sensitivity to the text. The four rather declamatory songs for male voice are ably handled by Donald Gramm (three) and Cornelis Opthof. The lieder are nearly all early works, ranging in style from late Romantic to trembling on the verge of atonality, except for the much later 12-tone songs comprising Op. 48. There's a wealth of music to explore here, and while one cannot appreciate the connections between text and music without the words at hand, one can certainly take pleasure in the way Gould's piano interweaves in countless subtle and dramatic ways with the singer.

Sony's sound is always at least good and sometimes quite impressive, notably in most of the solo piano music and in the way that the accompaniments to the lieder are never too prominent but always prominent enough. The piano itself is never glassy or brittle, and although Gould did not cultivate a "warm" sound, we are always aware of an admirable clarity and roundness of tone. The concerto has good stereo separation across the orchestra, with the piano well integrated.

My only regret, other than the absence of vocal texts, is that Sony did not order the songs according to date of composition — always of interest in a composer who evolved as much as Schoenberg. I can see no reason for the almost complete rearrangement of the opus numbers, or for placing the Five Pieces for Piano (1920-23) ahead of the Six Little Pieces (1911). However, the outstanding booklet essays (which include "backstage" details like Gould's wish to record with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf if his Columbia producer could "disentangle her from the arms of Herr Legge" [her husband, the head of EMI], and Schwarzkopf's withering remarks about the liberties Gould took with Richard Strauss lieder) make the set all the more worth acquiring.

 

 

Performance: Gould

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Enjoyment:

Sound Quality: Average of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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