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
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
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
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.
Quality: Average of