About this Recording
8.111341 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concerto No. 2 / BRAHMS, J.: Piano Quintet (Gould) (1957)

Glenn Gould (1932–1982):
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19 • Brahms: Piano Quintet Op. 34


Born in Toronto in 1932, Gould first studied the piano with his mother. He continued his studies from the age of ten with Albert Guerrero at the Toronto Conservatory of Music concurrently studying at Malvern Collegiate Institute. At fifteen he gave his recital début in Toronto and within a few years was regularly appearing on Canadian radio and television. By 1955 Gould was already one of Canada’s outstanding musicians and he then made his American début in Washington D.C. The recital, consisting of Bach, late Beethoven, Webern and Berg, was repeated in New York whereupon Gould was immediately signed to CBS records with the release of his 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (Naxos 8.111247) spreading his name around the world.

From this time Gould performed regularly throughout North America, and between 1957 and 1959 played in the USSR, Israel and Western Europe. However, finding performing traumatic and unpleasant he retired from the concert stage in 1964 at the age of 32. He became increasingly eccentric; always fastidious and particular about his health, he found the option of editing a recording to his satisfaction far preferable to performing.

Gould played Beethoven’s piano concertos from the beginning of his short performing career. As early as 1947 the fourteen-year-old Gould played Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and a few years later in 1951 when eighteen he played the First and Second Concertos with the same orchestra. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 19, had always been a favourite of Gould’s who apparently gave 24 public performances of the work. He chose to play it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein at his New York orchestral début at Carnegie Hall in January 1957 as well as on his visit to Leningrad in May of the same year. When Gould played all five concertos in London in 1959 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Joseph Krips (Louis Kentner substituted in the Emperor as Gould was ill) one critic wrote of the work that it ‘is often dismissed as immature, and so it is, in comparison with the later masterpieces; but a performance as technically perfect, as spontaneously musical as Mr Gould gave, makes us see it afresh as a work in its own right.’

Beethoven wrote his Piano Concerto in B flat, Op. 19, when he was 24, the same age as Gould was when he recorded the work. This was the first concerto recording Gould made for CBS and only his fourth LP. It is probable that after the Carnegie Hall performance with Bernstein that it was the conductor who had wanted to record the work. Apparently, at the end of the recording sessions in May 1957 Gould wanted to re-record some trills, but the producer told him that it was unnecessary and that ‘we’ll put together a record from out of all this that you’ll be proud of…’ It would be some years yet before Gould would have complete control over all aspects of the recordings he made.

For some inexplicable reason this recording of the Piano Concerto No. 2 (as well as No. 4) was never issued in the United Kingdom on LP and did not see a British release until 1993. The youthful Concerto No. 2 suits Gould extremely well. He plays with vitality and complete command, the first movement tempo noticeably faster than the live performance with Bernstein and with copious amounts of con brio as marked. There is a wonderful clarity to Gould’s sound in the first movement and while Bernstein rather milks the opening of the Adagio for the maximum amount of expression, Gould enters with solemn, beautifully balanced chords. The third movement is given great rhythmic propulsion by Gould although it is rather lacking in joyousness.

Gould’s personality did not dispose him toward the playing of chamber music. Always wanting control over every aspect of a performance and recording inevitably led to friction with other performers. He had worked with the Montreal String Quartet when they had given the first performance of his own String Quartet Op. 1 in May 1956. The Quartet had been formed only a year before in 1955 and had a fairly short existence until 1963. The performance of Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, heard here was given at the Montreal Festival and subsequently recorded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For all his allegiance to the classical composers and avoidance of romantic music, it is surprising that Gould played so much of Brahms’s work. In his early performing career he often played the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, and recorded pieces from Opp. 10, 76, 79 and the last three sets of late piano pieces Opp. 117–119. When in his early twenties, however, Gould broadcast a great deal for CBC and performed the Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 100, with Morry Kernerman in 1953. Later, in 1961 Gould took part in an all-Brahms concert broadcast from the Stratford Festival by CBC with violinist Oscar Shumsky and cellist Leonard Rose. They played the Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101, as well as the Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 78, and the Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38. Of all these Brahms broadcasts only the Quintet in F minor has surfaced. The performance has been criticised for its austerity on the part of the pianist and his unyielding to the more romantic phrasing and overall interpretation by the string players. It could be said, however, that Gould’s focus, precision, clarity and attention to detail prevents the music from becoming overblown or indulgent. Gould’s clarity of articulation seems to heighten the drama of the first and last movements while his rhythmic propulsion of the Andante is certainly welcome and not without a modicum of rubato.

In the remaining eighteen years of his life after he quit the stage Gould led an unusual and reclusive lifestyle. He composed, wrote and broadcast extensively and made a large number of recordings. He died in Toronto in 1982.

© 2009 Jonathan Summers

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