Iconoclastic genius, refreshing eccentric, infuriating nutcase—views on pianist Glenn Gould run the gamut, although he has been virtually deified since his death at age 50 in 1982.
Iconoclastic genius, refreshing eccentric, infuriating nutcase—views on pianist Glenn Gould run the gamut, although he has been virtually deified since his death at age 50 in 1982. His radical 1955 Columbia Masterworks recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations made him an international star, and although he renounced the concert stage at age 30, his obsessively rendered recordings became state-of-the-art attractions for a wide audience. He recorded the complete piano works of Bach for Columbia, including revisiting the Goldberg Variations with a far different interpretation just before his death. Gould's Goldbergs have been reissued many times from LP to CD to Super Audio CD (SACD), but this three-CD boxed set—the first deluxe fruit of the new partnership between Sony Classical and Sony's reissue arm, Legacy—is their definitive presentation, released to mark the dual 70th anniversary of Gould's birth and 20th anniversary of his death. Not only has the 1955 recording been remastered anew at 24-bit/96kHz, but the 1981 recording has also been fully restored by going back to a newly rediscovered analog tape that ran simultaneously with the pioneering digital recording that had been used for the master of the LP, CD, and initial SACD versions. The early digital recording offered silent background and extreme clarity but sacrificed warmth and depth. The freshly edited and remastered analog version here sounds remarkably superior, with wonderful body and presence. (The SACD titles currently on the market should eventually be replaced by new versions utilizing the analog master.) The third disc in this set presents a scripted but highly entertaining and illuminating 50-minute "interview" with Gould and journalist Tim Page, in which the pianist discusses his performances of the Goldberg Variations. As a bonus, there are also a few studio outtakes from the 1955 sessions. The nicely illustrated package features generous annotation, including an essay by Page (plus a reminiscence about his recorded interview with Gould), the original notes for the 1955 release by Gould, and a welcome technical note by reissue producer Louise de la Fuente (whose ace engineering partner was Andreas K. Meyer). The music is, of course, sublime and of timeless appeal; let's hope that the same sort of curatorial care and marketing savvy that Legacy has devoted to Miles Davis and Robert Johnson can help broaden the market for a similar cultural hero like Gould.—BB