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Beethoven: The 5 Pianos Concertos Import
|1. Concerto For Piano No. 1 In C Major, Op. 15: I. Allegro con brio (Cadenza: Glenn Gould)|
|2. Concerto For Piano No. 1 In C Major, Op. 15: II. Largo|
|3. Concerto For Piano No. 1 In C Major, Op. 15: III. Rondo. Allegro Scherzando|
|4. Concerto For Piano No. 4 In G Major, Op. 58: I. Allegro Moderato (Cadenza: Ludwig Van Beethoven)|
|5. Concerto For Piano No. 4 In G Major, Op. 58: II. Andante Con Moto|
|6. Concerto For Piano No. 4 In G Major, Op. 58: III. Rondo. Vivace|
|1. Concerto For Piano No 2 In B-Flat Major, Op. 19: I. Allegro Con Brio (Cadenza: Ludwig Van Beethoven)|
|2. Concerto For Piano No 2 In B-Flat Major, Op. 19: II. Adagio|
|3. Concerto For Piano No 2 In B-Flat Major, Op. 19: III. Rondo. Molto Allegro|
|4. Concerto For Piano No 3 In C Minor, Op. 37: I. Allegro Con Brio (Cadenza: Ludwig Van Beethoven)|
|5. Concerto For Piano No 3 In C Minor, Op. 37: II. Largo|
|6. Concerto For Piano No 3 In C Minor, Op. 37: III. Rondo. Allegro|
|1. Concerto For Piano And Orchestra No. 5 In E-Flat Major, Op. 73 'Emperor': I. Allegro|
|2. Concerto For Piano And Orchestra No. 5 In E-Flat Major, Op. 73 'Emperor': II. Adagio Un Poco Moto - Attacca:|
|3. Concerto For Piano And Orchestra No. 5 In E-Flat Major, Op. 73 'Emperor': III. Rondo, Allegro|
Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein bring an attractive regal pomp and broad rhetoric to the Third Concerto, yet these qualities work to the more lyrical Fourth's disadvantage. Gould's well-oiled fingers zip rather mechanically through the outer movements in the first two concertos, and he scrutinizes the Emperor with the inquiring mind of a brilliant crank. Excellent remastered 20-bit sound. --Jed Distler
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Gould had ambivalent feelings to Beethoven; in Gould's own words (quoted here The Glenn Gould Edition: Ludwig Van Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Volume II (Nos. 15-18, No. 23, Nos. 30-32) and elsewhere) he disliked a deal of Beethoven's music. Certainly every great interpreter is free to like or dislike every composer, but if Beethoven may be approached critically, Gould's art may be approached critically too.
Five Beethoven's concertos were written in that order: No. 2 > No.1 > No. 3> No. 4 > No. 5. The earliest of them, No. 2, Op. 19, was written ca. 1787-89 (revised 1795), the next one, No. 1, Op. 15 - 1796-7, No. 3, Op.37 - 1803, No. 4, Op. 58 - 1805-6, No.5, Op.73, 1809-11. If one looks at the recording dates in the reviewed album, one will see that Gould recorded Beethoven concertos exactly in the order they had been written: he started the series with No. 2 (1957), added No.1 (1958), then No. 3 (1959), then No.4 (1961) and concluded with No.5 (1966). It is difficult to get rid of the impression that Gould was working into Beethoven's method and trying to decompose the style of mature Beethoven on the basis of early Beethoven. He is constantly trying to downplay concertant bravura and to emphasize contrapuntal structure of the concertos. His touch is for the most part dry and percussive and the tempos taken in Concertos Nos. 4 & 5 are defiantly slow. Gould's phrasing, his touch and in many cases also his tempos were unconventional. He did not accelerate where most other pianists did and he used to put the accents where most people did not. Somewhere his method works for me, notably in Concerto No. 1, somewhere I dislike Gould's experiments. I second the opinion of a fellow reviewer that the most successful recordings are of concertos Nos. 1, 4 and 2 (in that order). Incidentally, concertos No. 1 & 4 are paired on the first CD in this album.
Beethoven's First concerto in C, Op. 15 (CD 1, tracks 1-3), gets a stunning performance from Gould and Vladimir Golschmann (1958). In the fast movements Gould and Golschmann emphasize Haydnesque features. The orchestral opening of the first Allegro is playful, while Gould's solos attract attention by their introvert character. As usual, Gould makes an emphasis on the bass line and occasionally replaces legato with staccato. Gould's own cadence to the first movement (from ca. 10'50) confirms that Gould is not as innocent as his modest tone in the beginning suggests: this cadence is a late Romantic fugue played in accordance to the 20th century piano canons, not to the 18th century canons. Purists may find it rampageous but Gould's cadence is a brilliant short piece by itself. In the middle Largo (track 2) Gould's tone becomes more lush. The final rondo, Allegro scherzando (track 3) brings Haydnesque humour back. It consists of seven briefly changing episodes: the Quasi-Hungarian episode in A minor (Track 3, ca. 2'40-3'50) in Gould's hands is a jewel. Gould's cadence to the third movement - this time not a fugue but a short rhapsody (ca. 6'08-7'08) is even more bold and dissonant than in the first movement. In short, this is a undeniably modern view of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto, but Gould's conception is thought-of and organic.
Gould recorded three Beethoven concertos with Leonard Bernstein. From these I find their collaboration in Beethoven's 4th concerto, Op. 58 (1961) most satisfying. Gould's solos in the first movement, Allegro moderato (CD 1, track 4), have remarkable clarity but they sound rather as ruminative digressions than as responses to the development in the orchestra. I do not know whether this effect arises due to Bernstein's unwillingness to follow Gould's phrasing (there was a tension between Gould and Bernstein) or it was Gould's original conception but anyway the movement lost in its integrity. Nevertheless, Gould's playing is attractive, especially in the development episode ca. 8'48-10'47. The middle movement, Romanza: Andante con moto, is ca. two minutes slower [6'40] than an average performance [4'20-4'40]. Gould's playing here has dramatic intensity and poise lacking in the outer movements which makes this E minor Andante not a passing episode but a dramatic event. True, Gould's solo part sometimes have a late Romantic flavour reminding of Brahms's intermezzos but here the taming of the orchestra is complete. The broad tempos taken in the outer movements - [19'21] and [10'45] respectively - depend on the deliberately slow speed taken by Gould in the middle Andante. There are many great versions of Beethoven's 4th Concerto on the market - Backhaus, Schnabel, Gieseking etc. but Gould's version won't get lost.
CD 2 in the reviewed album features Concertos No. 2 in B flat (1957) and No. 3 in C minor (1959), again with Bernstein. The 2nd Concerto (CD 2, tracks 1-3) gets a good performance, less radical than Gould's approach to the 1st Concerto, but mind that Beethoven's 2nd Concerto is an earlier and less bold piece than his 1st Concerto (although Beethoven inverted their numbers by publication). The live 1957 account with Gould and Slovak  is more warm and engaged while but the studio version included here has better sounds. As for the Gould - Bernstein recording of Beethoven's 3rd concerto in C minor (CD 2, tracks 4-6), I take issue with the distinguished Editorial reviewer Jed Distler who praises it for the `regal pomp and broad rhetoric'. Regardless of what Gould himself thought of Beethoven's 3rd concerto I do not want to hear it with a pianist who sees only regal pomp and a bunch of clichés in it. Happily, a lot of pianists approached this music differently: there are great versions left by Solomon, Backhaus, Eduard Erdmann, Kempff etc. My personal favourite is Kempff-Leitner Beethoven: Die Klavierkonzerte. If you specially want to hear Beethoven's 3rd concert with Gould, try his live 1957 version with Karajan Beethoven Piano Concerto No 3/Sibelius - it is better than this studio effort.
CD 3 contains the 1966 recording of Beethoven's 5th concerto, `The Emperor', with Gould and Stokowski. It is felt that neither the conductor nor the soloist loved this concerto. Gould offered two experimental readings to Stokowski - in a very fast tempo and in a slow tempo - and Stokowski chose the slow variant: the first movement takes [22'03], the second one [9'22], the finale [11'14]. The phrasing is weird: all the E flat major clichés and the pomp in the orchestra are there but the charm and elegance characteristic of the best performances of the `Emperor' are lost.
In all cases except for the 1st concerto Gould is performing Beethoven's original cadences: for Concerto No. 3 this is not a matter-of-fact decision but it was difficult to expect a Carl Reinecke Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 or Alkan Marc-André Hamelin Live at Wigmore Hall cadence from Gould.
The current amazon price for this album is OK. If the 3 CDs in it were issued separately in a different package I would say that CD 1 (Concertos Nos. 1 & 4) is interesting for most music lovers, CD 2 (Concertos Nos. 2 & 3) is for the collectors who wish to compare as many readings as possible, while CD 3 (Concerto No. 5) is for the most devoted Gould and Stokowski's fans and for people who on this or that reason are dissatisfied by all other performances of the `Emperor' concerto.
Respect the Fifth Concerto, Gould had the occurrence to record with Leopold Stokowski, who, as conductor was not neither a devoted Beethoven 's interpreter nor a consummate interpreter. The result of this weird musical alchemy was possibly the most eccentric and intentionally provocative personal reading. Gould disdains the aristocratic vein and any symbol that represents an idiosyncratic icon. Under this perspective the Emperor is a celebrated work that engages and captives rapidly the most primitive of the listeners, its long cantabile lines allow to retain in the memory the core of the work. But it is time to acknowledge in this piece its unencumbered lyricism and a certain atmosphere of theatrical triviality respect the figure of the Emperor. Perhaps this was a frontal statement against Napoleon his maxim disillusion as emblematic symbol of the new renovator airs after the French Revolution. After all the Emperor has also his little heart. The performing is absolutely free from all standpoint. That can generate serious problems respect the purists who may be accustomed to a major classical approach. You must realize the funny arpeggios that should proclaim epic vigor; but Gould disfigures it and transforms in a very sarcastic bourgeois hymn, with a very clever purpose, to eviscerate the contemplative and illusionist character of this Imperial fairy tale.
The Fourth Concerto is played under the same conception; it is erratic but supported by an original statement. Being the most classical and perhaps the most solid of the Set Gould undermines the heroic spirit and proverbial beauty of the score.
The Third Concert is to my mind one his best achievements. If we have to recognize the lack of visceral ignition of Leon Fleisher or the magisterial and unbeatable approach of Ivan Moravec or Wilhelm Kempff, Gould gets to convince, according his irreverent behavior, the minimum facets of this work.
The Second Concerto is what we might call "a work in progress", whose final result we would appreciate it in his admirable live recording in the Russian tour in 1958, as good will musical Ambassador. This last version is just an echelon blow the unsurpassable version of William Kapell.
And finally the First Concerto, loaded of a energetic and mercurial flair is to my mind one of his two major achievements and shares honors with Second. Gould displays passion, virility and thundering fingering combined of a fabulous musicality. In this sense this First one can rival easily with the superb and towering reading of Casadesus Van Beinum, the lovable version of Kempff Van Kempen, the fierce performance Richter Munch and the epic live version of Barenboim playing with the Berlin Philharmonic on November 12th 1989.
Besides it's a real pleasure to listen to the cadenza of the 1st movement, 1st concerto which is elaborated and (of course) performed by Mr Gould.
But here we also can see musicality of the highest interpretive order on display, sensitivity and nuance unsurpassed, and a courageous originality that is currently in very meager supply among pianists. Gould dared to supply cadenzas that were actually personal, contemporary reflections on the thematic material of these concertos where called for. Thus Gould did exactly what cadenzas were originally intended to be: expressions of the performer's prowess and creativity to complement those of the composer. And he got crucified for it!
To rape a brilliant performer's life and career over the use of some original cadenzas and unorthodox tempi is contemptible and absurd. But that is what happened to Glen Gould at the hands of the prominent conservative critics of his day. He dared to think and be creative; qualities that virtuosos dare not exhibit today. And we music lovers are much poorer for it.
Own these concertos, if only for the sake of preserving the spirit of creativity and courage that characterized Glen Gould, Leonard Bernstein, and others whom our currently impoverished musical landscape desperately needs.
Classical music today has become the stronghold of rich, arrogant, snobbish unwelcoming audiences, slavish performers who dare not offend them, and a general mouldering irrelevance that forebodes its virtual extinction not far in the future.