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William Bender
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…

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, December 2009

Gould’s uneasy way with Brahms means this is for collectors only

Avid collectors of this most mercurial and image-conscious of pianists will snap up Naxos’s offering of these performances recorded in 1957…Gould’s admirers will thrill once more to his spruce, spine-tingling brilliance…its flair and super-charged brio…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

Glen Gould will remain one of the enigmatic figures of 20th century music in North America, his world-wide fame as a pianist compromised by the media’s focusing on his many eccentricities. His concert career was restricted to little more than nine years, by which time he had become disillusioned as a touring virtuoso, and for the remainder of his short life became a recluse whose performances appeared in recorded format. The present disc comes from sessions in 1957 and before the onset of this withdrawal, the Beethoven Second Concerto being one of his favourite works. It is played with the freshness of youth, unhurried and rarely straying from the letter of the score. Leonard Bernstein created a nicely responsive partnership that gave ample weight to an orchestra of polish and elegance. The recording may have smoothed out some of the dynamic range, but the quiet passages still have Gould’s magical quality with the final moments of the second movement hanging on air. The Brahms Piano Quintet is equally infused with his clean-cut lines, but we have become accustomed to hearing the work in the white-heat of passion which here hardly ever surfaces. Turn to the Scherzo, with those passages where the piano erupts in its pounding rhythm, and you will find a cold accuracy. The short-lived Montreal String Quartet, founded two years before this recording, is similarly lightweight, and you feel theirs was a reading still in the making. The recorded sound in neither work is anything out of the ordinary for the period.

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