BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; BRAHMS: Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 – Glenn Gould, piano/Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein/Montreal String Quartet – Naxos Historical

by | Sep 23, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; BRAHMS: Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 – Glenn Gould, piano/Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein/Montreal String Quartet

Naxos Historical 8.111341, 65:19 [Not Distr. in the USA] ****:


Naxos once again turns to the controversial art of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982), whose performances always proved fascinating and willful at once. Producer Mark-Obert Thorn certainly realizes the potency of the Beethoven B-flat Concerto (9-11 May 1957) with Bernstein, first issued on ML 5211, but here restored with feral energy. The first movement exudes an intensely lyrical clarity that never wavers, the palpable brio of execution rife in every bar, which Gould passes off in his idiosyncratically brisk non-legato style, though he does not force a harpsichord sensibility on his liquid piano. The second movement seems a bit top-heavy, likely because Bernstein leans into the phraseology with pious expressivity. Gould favored this piano concerto, having given twenty-four public appearances of it. The singing tone of the movement, however, dispels all solemnity in favor of graded thoughtful repose. The facility of Gould’s trills and runs beguile us as much as they did in his heyday. I recall a Beethoven Fourth at Carnegie Hall that soon evolved into a tug of war between Gould and Bernstein in matters of speed and phraseology. The Rondo here in the B-flat Major proceeds with brittle vitality, a bit tight-lipped but rhythmically aggressive and bejeweled with sparkling piano colors.

Gould played a fair amount of the music of Brahms, but always in terms of his “progressive” harmonic outlook, as interpreted through Schoenberg’s eyes. The 1957 collaboration (via the CBC) with the Montreal String Quartet–Hyman Bress, violin; Mildred Goodman, violin; Otto Joachim, viola; Walter Joachim, cello–offers a rather dry sensibility, austere and tightly controlled. Gould seems to counter the more romantic ardors of his string colleagues–like Walter Joachim’s ardent cello–with a precise but laconic phraseology that bespeaks the Neue Sachlichkeit. Still, the more symphonic aspects of the score emerge with requisite force and nostalgia, Otto Joachim’s viola intoning with raspy poignancy in the latter pages of the opening Allegro non troppo.

The approach to the A-flat Major second movement seems to me unique, the strings breaking up the melodic line–deconstructing it–while Gould plays in a non-legato style that makes the opening flourish sound like a piece from Bach’s WTC. What is curious is how much the melodic tissue emanates from Schubert, yet the ensemble assumes a decidedly non-romantic sensibility, often jarring the syncopations rather than finding concord between them. The Bismarckian C Minor Scherzo manages a fractious delicacy, the syncopations around the dominant G and the excursions into C Major possessing a dogged drive and occasionally heavy tread. Violinists Bress and Goodman scratch and claw their way into the pungent harmonies of the movement, which suddenly breaks off, legato, into the trio in C Major. Gould’s obsessive pointillism relishes the fugal aspects of the movement, especially as the quartet adjusts its dynamics to raspy agitated whispers. The last bars, of course, are all grumbles and dark thoughts. That Brahms and Schoenberg make a kind of late-Romantic tag-team asserts itself in the chromatic opening of the Finale:  Poco sostenuto, with sudden spasms from the individual strings that set up the Schubertian tune adapted from that composer’s Grand Duo. Hyman Bress and Walter Joachim stand out as the anguished procession gathers momentum, even repressed fury that barely allows the Hungarian “variant” of the theme breathing room. At the recap of the main tune, Otto Joachim’s viola becomes an outstanding presence, a bittersweet voice in the midst of painful ruminations. The last, poised lull before the presto storm carries an air of mystery, and the music suddenly rushes headlong, like the composer’s own Schicksalslied, into the Teutonic abyss. Commentators claim Gould had not the temperament for chamber music, but this document says wonders about his capacities to collaborate in intimate expression that never loses its expansive gripping power.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01