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English Suites/CD 318

At 09:34 AM 7/24/2000 -0700, Jim Morrison wrote:
Anybody else out there (and I know there's at least one) think that
Gould's recording of the Second English Suite, is the best of those

Did you know the Second is the only one recorded before the damage to CD
(The liner notes to the Sony Edition make this explicit without having to
check the dates. I did it anyway.)

Bravo! That's a connection I hadn't made before, but it makes plenty of sense.

I haven't seen those notes to the GG Edition of the English Suites, since
the CD set I have is the earlier CBS Masterworks 42268.  (Includes the
French Overture.)

I think the GG recording of the 2nd E.S. (A minor) is by far the best of
the six of them, comparing GG's performances across the set.  In the 2nd
E.S. he is playing at his top level of skill where musical elements are
differentiated subtly, and always within a beautiful touch and a natural
flow.  Really a terrific performance.  But in all the others (and it gets
progressively worse, the later they were recorded) he becomes less
subtle.  He's more aggressively demonstrative with the music, less
graceful.  His ornamentation goes around the bend.  His staccatos sound
more artificial.  His tone gets harsh.  To compound this, the 3rd, 4th, and
6th suites are plagued with pitch shifts at the splice points...really
disconcerting!  (It's not as bad as in the Toccatas, but  it's still
noticeable enough to be annoying.)

But I'd never thought before of a simple correlation between the loss of
CD318 and the point where GG's Bach gets too weird for me.  I knew the
breaking point of GG's Bach (for me as a listener) was somewhere early in
the 1970's (see
http://www.tug.org/mail-archives/f_minor/msg03742.html).  And I knew that
the only Toccata I really like (as GG plays it) is the only one from the
1960's, the E minor; his recordings of the other six are hard to listen to,
as I elaborated in that Jan 1999 message.  I knew that the 2nd E.S. works
better than the others do, and French Suites 5 and 6 work better than the
first four do.

But I hadn't put all that together so directly with the change of
piano.  Duh!

Now that you point it out, it seems obvious.  When GG played Bach on CD318
before its fatal wounding, his interpretations still sound reasonably
natural: he's drawing part of the interpretation from the sound and feel of
the piano.  He lets the instrument participate in the decisions.  But after
that, he increasingly gets into an artificial and willful style where
everything comes from his mind, not from the instrument.  It turns into
"Glenn Gould's Bach" as opposed to "Bach played by Glenn Gould" (thanks to
Anne Marble for this distinction).  I know this might sound kind of odd,
but it's along the lines of what I was saying recently about
harpsichord.  If the performer collaborates with an instrument, truly
listening to it and reacting gracefully to what it does naturally, the
results are quite different than if the performer imposes a preset

And similarly, the A major E.S. #1 from the 11/22/1967 broadcast (Music &
Arts 272) has a more natural flow than the 1973 Columbia recording: more
subtlety, more grace, and without the aggressive eccentricities of
staccato, ornamentation, or arpeggiation.  Can this much change be
attributed to the piano?  I suspect so...perhaps the loss of CD318 was to
GG like the loss of a life partner, and everything is changed thereafter,
especially in his Bach.

So it looks like The Second English Suite, recorded May 23, 1971, was the
last "complete" piece recording made on an undamaged CD 318.  Now there's even
more emotion to fill the special place in my heart I reserve for that

Fair enough.

PS: Where's Bradley? I thought he wanted to talk about CD 318? Bradley,
come out from where ever you are.

Busy with work and other summer things. But also waiting to hear other people who are more knowledgeable about CD318's adventures than I am. I haven't followed that particular aspect of GG's career very closely. It seems worth looking into.

Anybody else have observations about the role of this particular piano in
GG's life?

Bradley Lehman
Dayton VA