Composers: David Lang
Compositions: The Loser
Performers: Rod Gilfry bar, Conrad Tao p, Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble, Lesley Leighton cond
Catalogue Number: Cantaloupe CA21155
In the year following Glenn Gould’s early death (1983), the acclaimed Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard published the novella The Loser which had the pianist as one of its trio of protagonists. In allowing for artistic licence, Bernhard’s Gould holds many similarities with the historical man. Here, Gould comes across as a sort of Nietzschean Übermensch to be placed on a level with Mann’s Adrian Leverkühn and the work is equally influenced by Kafka and Joyce. The work focuses on two would-be virtuosi and fellow students, Wertheimer and the unnamed narrator. It is Gould who refers to Wertheimer as “the loser” and it is Wertheimer who goes on to suicide whilst Gould becomes the ideal Goethean hero who dies during a public performance.
I don’t know if opera is really the right term for David Lang’s work on the same subject. With only one protagonist and a quartet of musicians, the work is an interior monologue wherein his two fellow students give up their prospective careers after experiencing true genius in the form of Gould. Lang’s opera is incisive and attractive. Whilst not being overly melodic, it cleverly presents itself using appropriate patterns and rhythms of speech.
Rod Gilfry is masterly as the protagonist – empathetic, bringing Bernhard’s three characters convincingly to life with the clearest of diction. The instrumentalists underpin and support him brilliantly whilst the composer never resorts to the counterpoint which so identifies his genius character. Well recorded, the work will appeal to devotees of Bernhard and Gould completists.