Picks and Pans Review: The Glenn Gould Silver Jubilee Album and Glenn Gould Plays Beethoven Sonatas
The late maestro George Szell once commented after performing with Gould, "No doubt about it. That nut's a genius." Ever since the Canadian pianist became a sensation 25 years ago with his first LP, Bach's Goldberg Variations, listeners have debated whether the mix is mostly genius or mostly nut. The genius contingent emphasizes Gould's rhythmic drive and breathtaking finger work. The nutsayers focus on Gould's disregard for composers' notations and his eccentricities: humming while playing, sitting with his chin almost level with the keyboard, and, most of all, giving up the concert stage in 1965 (at age 32) to devote himself to recording and a hermitlike existence in his native Toronto. Columbia's four Silver Jubilee releases (including two Bach samplers) should reinforce the passions of both camps. Although Gould gives Beethoven's Pastoral sonata a balanced reading, his reserve in the delightful earlier works (Op. 2, Nos. 1,2 & 3) verges on spoilsportism. The Silver Jubilee Album is a stew. One disc contains creditable late-'60s performances of Scarlatti, C.P.E. Bach, Scriabin and Strauss songs (with estimable soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) and 1963's So You Want to Write a Fugue, a challenge to would-be Bachs sung in four-part harmony. The other disc is A Glenn Gould Fantasy, a 55-minute mock interview pitting a pedant named Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite (Gould in effete British voice), abstruse theoretician Karlheinz Klopweisser (Gould in a zho-zho German accent) and other straw men against the pianist himself. It's a bore, with Gould using the characters to ridicule his detractors and grandiosely defend himself. It makes late Firesign Theater sound like sophisticated humor.