American Record Guide
, January 2010
Gould’s reading of the Beethoven dates from 1957 when he was 24 and in the early days of his recording career. It remains one of the high points of his legacy. He had made his New York orchestral debut with the same work only months before under Bernstein, with the NY Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall; and it is said that the conductor’s voice was probably the strongest for making a recording. Seasons later the two musicians would come to such differences over the Brahms Concerto 1 that Bernstein would dissociate himself from the interpretation. That was a classic Gould-Bernstein happening.
No such interpretive conflicts appear to have marked the Beethoven. The two allegros fly along in ways that really had not been heard before. Few pianists had taken the concerto seriously enough to find out. Few conductors had poured as much feeling into the slow movement as Bernstein. (Most of this “Columbia Symphony” was recruited from the Philharmonic.) The writer of the Naxos album notes accuses Bernstein of milking the Adagio. When it comes to milking, Bernstein would later become a master; but here the observation seems unfair. After all, Beethoven’s concerto slow movements were often cloying and yellow around the edges. Bernstein gives this one a welcome embrace.
Gould’s amazing keyboard work is something we tend to take for granted. His muscular dexterity took years to develop, of course, but the ability to balance multiple melodic lines so perfectly (try Bach’s Second English Suite in the Gould recording for another lesson in that) may just have had to do with the way that marvelous brain was originally laid out. Here in the Beethoven, as in the Bach, we find a perfect illustration of another hallmark of his style: the ability to give each note its full value, even at high speeds. If that sounds truistic, or like a hopeful piano teacher at work, you would be surprised at how many concert pianists do not—and how tough it is. In Gould’s hands the notes at full value add up. For one thing, they help keep the rhythm and tempos firm. And they lend a sustained richness to the tonal palette.
The recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet also dates from 1957 and was taped in the Montreal studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Co. It does not make us forget excellent past issues…but it is good Gould—marked by his determined dramatic pulse…