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<<  -- 3 --  Rex Harley    ABSOLUTE CLARITY


First is the absolute clarity of the soundworld he creates. To make a picturesque analogy, for me it is like the moment when, after several years of deteriorating eyesight I finally received my first pair of glasses. It was autumn, and the trees were bare. Suddenly I could see every twig on every branch. Not that this diminished my sense of the complete tree: I was simultaneously aware of the myriad parts and magnificent whole. So it is with Gould. Others have referred to his providing 'an x-ray of the music', a conceit beautifully exploited in the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, in which the pianist himself is presented in x-ray, intercut with the internal workings of the piano.

Second, though he takes liberties with tempi, there is always a keen logic behind the act. This is nicely evidenced by the Sinfonia in F Minor, which, because he has rearranged the normal sequence, is the final track on the CD. By slowing it down, albeit slightly, the music is suddenly exposed as spare to the point of minimalism; the passing dissonances hover in an air that feels positively glacial. When it ends, you feel there is no more to be said, nowhere else to go. As French psychologist and musicologist Michel Schneider wrote: 'With Gould it is not his fingers that bind the notes together but what he is thinking.'

What he thinks can, at times, take the listener into some disturbing places; so, thirdly, he constantly gives the lie to those who conceive Bach's creations as a kind of 'musical knitting', cutting to the emotional heart of the work like a surgeon. Part of Gould's achievement is that his refusal to use the sustaining pedal puts the guts back into Bach. Crisp; dynamic; even detached. And if that means throwing away Bach's own legato slurs -- so be it. There are times when the purist will feel that the disclaimer -- 'Bach arranged Gould' -- is in order. There are even those, perversely, who have regarded what they hear as 'monotonous'.

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Copyright © 25 December 2002 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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