The Slipped Disc Daily comfort zone (34): Gould in Brandenburg

One of the most unusual Bach performances on record.

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  • Strange coincidence. I was watching this performance last night on YouTube.
    Unusual? Certainly. But compelling as well. The cadenza in the first movement is quite astonishing (both music and performance).
    Also included in the original broadcast was a performance of the Cantata 54 with Russell Oberlin as soloist, and Gould performing two fugues from the Art of the Fugue.
    I first saw this film almost thirty years ago, have watched it many times, and find it every bit is moving all these years later as I did then

    • Alexander, he performance you were watching was recorded on April 4/1962 in Toronto with Oscar Shumsky (violin) and Julius Baker ( flute). The very unusual sound coming from the piano was explained by Gould himself who called it a “harpsipiano”. He had thumbtacks added to make it sound as close as possible to a harpsichord. On the other hand, this performance heard here was recorded in Baltimore on January 2 the same year. It was the last time Gould played it in public. The recording has a unique quality because it was done in stereo with a portable Uher machine. I’m sure Gould would have loved it; it has a very dry sound coming from a close mike to the piano. There is also a recorded performance of the Brandenburg 5 in Detroit with Paul Paray. Not as good as this one here.

      • Thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t listen to the clip as I assumed it was the same performance.
        I was, in fact, unaware that Gould had recorded the piece more than once.

  • Ps: I am a huge Glenn Gould fan. (I was even in touch with several people who had known him and had studied with the same teacher, Alberto Guerrero, as I had the suspicion that Gould owed him more than he cared to admit. My suspicions were confirmed).

  • Gould often said he was looking for extasis in music, a state of mind over body. Well he may just have found it in the cadenza to the first movement of this Brandenburg no.5; a pure delight lasting 3 and a half minutes, arguably the best clavier work from J-S Bach.

  • I could not listen to this more than a couple of minutes…. much too slow, downbeat (those awful strings sawing towards the floor), spiky piano playing instead of using a harpsichord – it is a good example of the oldfashioned misunderstanding of what baroque music is. Such approaches even kill JS Bach.

  • Luckily the misunderstandings have included Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin, Edwin Fischer, and Wilhelm Furtwaengler. How I wish there were a recording by Wanda Landowska and her Pleyel harpsichord. Purists would howl’ others are inaudible. Ddogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

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