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Re: GG: Handel

Alun Severn asked:

> >I'd swallow my principles however if the h'chord performance of the GFH
> >sonatas is *really* -- **really** -- worth having. Help, as ever,
> >appreciated.

Kristen Immoor responded:

>         Assuming that you admire Gould performances more than
> harpsichord music, I'll go ahead and say oh definitely, I think the disc
> is marvellous. 

I think that so much depends on what you're looking for.  Gould, being
Gould, had a way of producing some effective musical results despite wacko
"stylistically wrong" interpretations (let's see...the Dispassionata, the
Mozart sonatas, the Chopin sonata, the SLOW Beethoven/Liszt 6th, the
heavy-handed Bach French Suites, the neurotically intense Brahms
rhapsodies, that pointillistic WTC I/1, the Hetu, the ungraceful La Valse,
the Siegfried Idyll's, the Gibbons Salisbury P/G and Italian Ground, the
live Brandenburg 5 in Baltimore...).  He made his work sound convincing,
at least at an intellectual level of interest.  That's where I'd put his
Handel suites: so far out there and harpsichordistically "wrong" that it
can be stylistically excruciating to listen to...but the *musical* results
are enjoyable and interesting, intellectually.  I cringe a lot when
listening to the way he didn't understand the harpsichord at all (few
pianists do, anyway, having not put in the time).  But his performances do
make me hear the music in a new way, and I enjoy all the above-mentioned

>         However, let me add that I love it specifically because it has
> alot of "Gould energy." There are some places where he really "slams the
> keys into the beds" as one reviewer negatively put it, but that
> overabundance of energy is exactly what I like about the performance.
> Despite the reserved and "pointillistic" (Gould's word) line that comes
> from a harpsichord, you can really hear the keys being pounded, especially
> in the Gigues. Something about beating up on a harpsichord... very
> exciting. 

True, that aspect is visceral.  And it's clear that Gould isn't responding
to what the harpsichord naturally does tonally (at least a good
harpsichord, not necessarily the one he [ab]used)...he just isn't
listening to the harpsichord's ability to sing clear, full tones, with
time to let them bloom.  Instead of hearing a harpsichord playing notes
written by Handel, we hear Gould playing notes written by Handel.  In that
sense, it *musically* works as we hear his interpretations (strong Gould
personality) despite the grotesque way he shoves them through a

Reminds me of Alfred Cortot's comments about the time he went to play some
of Debussy's works for D's widow and daughter.  He asked Chouchou, "Is
that how your daddy played?" and heard the response, "No, Daddy listened
more."  (I think Cortot's later Debussy recordings are stunning, BTW.)

In the Handel, I think of what Gould *might* have been able to do with
clarity if he had simply staggered the notes a bit more loosely in
contrapuntal textures (as he did sometimes on piano), and slowed most of
the fast movements down, and played with instead of against the
instrument.  In good harpsichord technique, the player feels every pluck
individually (like the sensitivity of playing a lute), and has good
control of the placement of releases as well.  Gould pretty much plays
ON-ON-ON, overdriving the plucks and releases, and not differentiating
much between strong and weak notes.  It's sad, because he certainly had
the finger control to be able to play harpsichord well, if he had chosen
to understand it better.  This Handel recording could have been stunning. 
(I'm not very fond of Keith Jarrett's harpsichord efforts, either, for
similar reasons.) As it is, I think it's merely another interesting Gould
record, not a natural musical experience that sounds like Handel. 

Little-known harpsichord fact: on a good instrument, one gets a louder,
fuller, richer tone by depressing the keys SLOWLY rather than quickly. 
The string gets displaced more before the plectrum lets go, and
reverberates more openly.  This is counter-intuitive to pianists who are
used to having more force = louder. 

> Also, the Allemande from the 1st A Major suite is worth the 10
> UKp alone, it is quite beautiful. The WTC is from 1970 CBC TV, and
> performed on the dreaded harpsipiano. Not bad, but his singing is quite
> loud in a few places. All in all, I think this disc sums up an interesting
> non-piano experiment in Gould's career, and is worth owning. 

I agree, for those reasons it's worth it.  And some of his treatment of
the "improvise on these chords" sections is astonishing, the way he
chooses to arpeggiate in several speeds at once. 

Bradley Lehman, bpl@umich.edu       http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/