Glenn Gould & Herbert von Karajan

0 of 5 stars

Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Sibelius
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Glenn Gould (piano)

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded 26 May 1957 at Hochschule für Musik, Berlin


Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL 88697287822
Duration: 66 minutes

pdf file of the original concert programme. From that you’ll gather that the first and arguably most interesting item from Karajan’s concert has been dropped: that part of the tape containing Hindemith’s Symphony, Mathis der Maler was wiped in 1964! (Although Karajan did record it for EMI later in 1957.)

Contemporary critical evaluations of Gould’s concert appearances tended to be skewed by his bizarre keyboard posture, copious tics and mannerisms. This audio-only record gives us a less eccentric impression. More likely to strike us today is the straightforwardness of his playing in the outer movements and its Pollini-like concentration on adamantine clarity and directness of address (his commercial recording, with Bernstein, has more kinks). Rawer excitement is generated in the first movement cadenza, never mind that Karajan’s final tutti is rather self-important. The finale’s dash to the finishing line is also strikingly done.

Conductor and soloist seem agreed on a forward-moving yet Romantic approach to the slow movement. Elsewhere the Karajan deep-pile effect can sit a little oddly with Gould’s own preferences, though the contrast is almost certainly exaggerated by a sound balance which foregrounds the strings more than even this conductor would have wanted, burying significant wind lines. What may surprise the unwary listener is that neither party brings absolute technical perfection to the table. There are slips from Gould and oddities of tuning from the Berliners. This is a live recording in the old sense, non-patched and cough-strewn.

The balance problems are magnified in the Sibelius, a Karajan enthusiasm recalled by Gould as “one of the truly indelible musical-dramatic experiences of my life”. He was one of the few great pianists to include Sibelius’s piano music in his repertoire. An ardent admirer of Karajan’s broader and more smoothly regulated Deutsche Grammophon recording (there are several for EMI), he purloined it for use in his famous radio documentary on “The Idea of North” in 1967. Ten years earlier Karajan is still rushing his fences with the final hammer blows peculiarly placed. The work is patently unfamiliar to the restless audience.

Mishaps notwithstanding, the two men made music together for as long as the pianist performed in public. Thereafter talk of electronic collaborations never came to fruition. Gould and Karajan, whatever their differences in matters of style and temperament, shared a belief in technology as a benign and progressive force lost to our less confident age. For that very reason they might not have approved the present dusty reclamation from the archive, whatever the attitude of their present-day admirers. For Gould at least, concert recordings represented a contradiction in terms.

The lasting significance of their “impossible partnership” (as billed here) is not easily assessed, but the Beethoven does carry the imprimatur of the renowned critic, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt. Reporting for “Die Welt”, he acclaimed the young Canadian pianist as a genius, a complete master of a kind unheard since the time of Busoni. Gould, suitably flattered, admitted to looking up the date of Busoni’s death. It was 1924.

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