Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gould Medal for Glenn

Glenn Gould’s 1955 rendition of the Goldberg Variations still sets the standard.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Likewise, let he who has perfected the Goldberg Variations critique Glenn Gould’s. The variations have become, according to pianist-writer Jeremy Denk, “a trendy bar that (infuriatingly) keeps staying trendy” -- the pianist’s touchstone, the ultimate classical classic. Popular among performers as the Goldberg Variations are, only one man has maintained a listener’s monopoly for the past half-century. Glenn Gould, the Canadian, the oddball: his 1955 recording brazenly bursts forth from the sea of C+-in-confidence Goldbergs. With the vim and vigor expected of twenty-somethings (but seldom exemplified by them), Gould executes each variation with an exuberance sure to exhume Bach Sr. himself. Shirking all repeats, Gould reduces eighty minutes of G Major (& assoc.) to just under forty; also, he takes certain variations at tempi nearly double of those chosen by other performers (and he is free to -- Bach provided no indication of tempo). Yet the listener is not at all left in want of the omitted half, for Gould condenses a repeated section’s worth of expressive development into a single statement: each voice speaks in one instance with infinite, independent inflection. Indeed, Glenn Gould’s deliberate fingers unite player and piano into a single unit, a machine free from human foible, most suited to performing so perfect a composition.

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