Keeping in mind that the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould would have celebrated his 80th birthday just a few months ago, Sony has seen fit to release a deluxe limited set which gathers together all of Gould’s JS Bach recordings, mostly in their original LP covers with the photogenic, iconoclastic Gould often in full focus. It is just as well that an impressive hardback book accompanies the set, thereby reproducing the liner notes (often by Gould himself) at a legible size. Of course, many regard his two wildly divergent studio recordings of the Goldberg Variations (1955 in mono, 1981 in digital stereo) as seminal, but there is much to be discovered here for the uninitiated. It should be noted, though, that as Sony has chosen to reproduce the albums as initially released, we occasionally get items overlapping throughout the set – excerpts from the Well-Tempered Clavier can also be found on the compilation Little Bach Book, for example. In this collection we have no fewer than five Goldberg recordings, including a live traversal from a late 1950s Salzburg recital and a CBC radio broadcast from as early as 1954. One wonders why certain concerti are repeated, and whether the stereo remix of the 1955 Goldbergs was really necessary.
The DVD section of this tome includes all three of Bruno Monsaingeon’s Glenn Gould Plays Bach films, including a complete Goldbergs recorded not long before the pianist’s death. These are absolute classics and provide perfect examples of Gould as controlling interlocutor – yet we learn so much from him! The three DVDs of CBC footage date from 1957 to 1970 and provide an opportunity to hear Gould at his “harpsi-piano” in both the Brandenburg No 5 and a Bach cantata – works he never recorded in the studio. The only thing I can find missing from this comprehensive Bach odyssey is a live 1957 take of the D-Minor concerto given in Leningrad.
Gould was that rare type of pianist whose legacy will continue to give joy; he will frustrate and inspire and not all will agree with his approach to Bach, which show what happens when two stubborn geniuses meet head-on. My favourite periods are of the young wunderkind (1955-63) and his final years (1977-81), in which he was much more reflective, even philosophical, in his pianism. But love him or hate him, which other pianist still sounds as remarkably fresh as Gould? Thirty years after his death, he continues to fascinate followers with his unique way of thinking and playing.