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some of the most thrilling playing and ecstatic Bach ever recorded
on 22 October 2006
The Church that Gould recorded the first nine works in Bach's seminal 'Art of the Fugue' burned down before he got round recording remaining pieces: a great shame given the masterful playing on this CD. People forget (or simply have no idea) that Gould studied organ alongside piano at Toronto Conservatory. He graduated in both instruments aged 12! Gould's mother was organist at a Toronto Anglican church, so not surprisingly organ playing was very much in Gould's blood and may go a long way to explaining his remarkable abilities in contrapuntal music.
Original reviews of this set (when it came out on LP) complained about the closeness of the recording, the microphones shoved close-up to the pipes. This was part of the Gould plan, and conceptually similar to the balances he preferred for his piano discs. I'm not an organist so I can't really comment on the style of his playing. As a listener I find this set thrilling. Above all Bach, Gould revered the Art of the Fugue. He plays the fugues with great erudition, judicious in his tempos, meticulous as ever in counterpoint, all lines emerging with total independence and clarity. There's a real thrill though in the music making, the fugues have tremendous energy and inner joy. A dry study in counterpoint this is not - its an affirmation.
The sound of the disc is a little unconventional in that the acoustic is quite dry, but I think the remastering has the balance about right. Gould wanted your to hear the counterpoint, it doesn't become subsumed in a cavernous acoustic. This disc is a real gem, some of the most thrilling playing and ecstatic Bach ever recorded. Its such a shame he didn't manage to finish this project, but we can be grateful for what he did record!