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4.0 out of 5 stars
Bach: The Art of the Fugue
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105 of 108 people found the following review helpful
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!
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113 of 119 people found the following review helpful
What you will find on this disc is A) contrapunctus I-IX played on two different organs in 1962; B) contrapunctus I II & IV from a1981 TV broadcast; C) contrapunctus IX XI & XIII in mono from a radio broadcast in 1967; D) the unfinished contrapunctus XIV from what may or may not be the same TV broadcast as B); and as a final filler E) a prelude and fugue on the name BACH from a studio recording in 1980. Items B)-E) are given on the piano.

Gould's organ renderings ran into critical flak at the time, and whether for that reason or because organ-playing aggravated a shoulder condition that the maestro suffered from he never completed the project. The sound of the piano is a little below standard in C), with some background hiss and a slightly emaciated tone, but even it is not really bad, B) and D) are better, and E) better still sound-wise. The sound of the organs has been criticised, but I do not criticise it and indeed it suits me very well. Nothing in the sound-quality from start to finish interferes in any way with my appreciation of Gould's wonderful, visionary and unique Bach-playing.

This disc does not offer you the complete Art of Fugue, so anyone who wants what's here is going to want it for something special in the performance. Gould is always special I guess, but not special in ways that suit everyone. My feeling is that if you are of the school that wants the Art of Fugue played 'expressively' you can probably leave this offering alone. Once Gould sets a tempo he sticks to it unflinchingly without rubato, and except for some build-up in the tone as D) progresses there is a very restricted range of dynamics within each piece, although the individual pieces are strongly contrasted in respect of both volume-level and pace. Interestingly, in those numbers which he gives in two different performances, he takes a markedly different approach each time. Conrapunctus II IV and IX are very much faster in the piano version than on the organ, but contrapunctus I on the piano is taken very slowly indeed, lasting nearly twice as long as in the organ account. It is a matter of one's own concept of the work basically. For me, the Art of Fugue is the ultimate in abstract 'absolute' music. It is a monument of remote sublimity like pure mathematics or like the stars in the sky, and it is just there for us to wonder at and does not reach out to us or 'express' anything. The player's task is to convey its grandeur, and for me Gould does that as no other version, on any instruments whatsoever - Bach specifies none) has ever done for me, and I feel this most acutely in his much-criticised organ renderings. The organs he uses are not giants, and there is only limited use of the pedals. He uses mainly a detached fingering, although embracing a more legato style in contrapunctus VI. However it stands to reason that the parts in long sustained notes do not admit of the detached treatment, and I love Gould's selection of strongly contrasted stops to assist clarity further. These are the means he adopts. What these means are in furtherance of is an impression of utter grandeur in the sublime march of Bach's polyphony. It is even a privilege to be shown how this grandeur can be viewed from startlingly different angles in his alternative interpretations of 4 of the fugues.

The last fugue from the Art, the unfinished contrapunctus XIV, is taken at a very slow pace and ends abruptly where the dying composer left it. In the normal way of things I detest this procedure - whatever Bach intended it wasn't that, and in a composition that is the ne plus ultra of method many competent musicians have supplied conclusions that must, in the very nature of the case, approximate to what Bach himself would have done. However this was a television performance, and I gather that the camera was made to freeze at this point with Gould's right hand poised dramatically in mid-air. Gould, who kicked Ravel's piano transcription of La Valse into touch and wrote his own, is having none of that when it comes to Bach, and under the circumstances I stifle my own normal reaction to this abrupt hiatus.

One of the most extraordinary things about Bach is how popular he manages to be for all his seeming severity. The Art of Fugue is innocent of the lyricism that was also part of Bach's infinite musical gift, it makes no compromises with us, but I would say to newcomers to the work that Gould's accounts, partial as they are, would be the best place to start to know this unique and towering masterpiece. It is not any indivisible entity in any case. Better, to start with, to hear some of it presented like this than the entire set in many another, perhaps indeed in any other, version.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 November 2008
This is definitely one of my favourite GG Edition CDs. As with all of his Bach recordings, I'm struck by the brilliant mind of Glenn Gould, listening to the amazing clarity and freedom of his playing which makes this wonderfully complex music sound as if coming directly from his mind. What a shame he did not record complete piano version of the work! Highly recommendable not just to fans, but anyone who loves Art of Fugue, alongside koroliov's enthralling complete recording.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2011
I bought this because I heard part of it on BBC Radio 3 without knowing who the organist was. From the colourful, piquant registration, the moderate size of the instrument and the dexterity of some of the embellishments I guessed that it might be Ton Koopman but was interested to learn that Glenn Gould was playing.

Gould's usual preoccupation with clarity of line and articulation drive the sound engineering of the organ section of the disc and the piano sound in the 'sweep up' of Gould's other 'Art of Fugue' recordings is predictably close, while his vocalising comes over more strongly against the piano than the organ. (People don't seem to take issue with Toscanini's singing along, incidentally, but Gould is still castigated.)

After cutting my teeth on Lionel Rogg's and Helmut Walcha's recordings of the Art of Fugue - Rogg's Geneva recording also contains a speculative conclusion to the last fugue - I found it quite bracing to hear an organ almost as the player might, rather than via microphones in the 'body of the kirk' with the sonorous reverberation of the building sustaining the sound.

Such a shame that Gould claimed to experience pain for too long after playing the organ for him to be able to spare the time to return to the instrument and complete the project but I'm certainly grateful to have this slant on Bach's work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2013
I know that there is a huge debate about Glenn Gould and his playing style, not least his tendency to hum during his performances. However, I fall firmly into the camp that thinks he was little short of a genius. This particular recording of the art of fugue on the organ had not only the critics of the time but his closest friends and colleagues pretty much damning it as "unmusical". One even likened it to seals playing God Save The Queen on car horns! Gould insisted that the microphones were placed on the wind chests close to the pipes. I my view the critics got this one wrong - not Gould. As a once amteur organist I can say that this is the only recording I have (of many) where the clarity of the instrument (warts and all) is such that the impression of being in the organ loft is quite overwhelming. To my ear there is an intimacy seldom heard in organ music recordings and it is yet further confirmation to me that this man was indeed a genius. He ignored the 'advice' from his producer and left us with an unusual approach to recording the Art of Fugue on the organ. By the way the piano recordings on the CD (to my ears) are excellent too. For the more than reasonable price of this CD, I can only suggest that you try it for yourself. Will you love it or hate it?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 August 2014
I thought that this CD might be a good entry into Gould’s idiosyncratic playing. I do not mind his oral accompaniment as much as some people and this characteristic should come as no surprise. I also appreciated the inclusion of works played on the rather wheezy pipe organ [All Saints’ Anglican Church, Toronto, and New York’s Teological Chapel in early 1962] and piano [CBS Radio and TV broadcasts, 1967 and 1981, respectively, and at Eaton’s Auditorium, Toronto, 1980].

Gould, 1932-82, plays Contrapuncti I-IX on the organ and Contrapuncti I, II, IV, IX, XI, XIII and XIV on the piano as well as the Prelude and Fugue on the name of B. A. C. H., BWV 898. Gould considered that ‘there’s never been anything more beautiful in all of music than the monumental and unfinished Contrapunctus XIV.

This was Gould’s only organ recording, plans for further recordings being abandoned by Columbia, perhaps because of the hostile critical reviews to the original LP. Speaking later, Gould described preparing for the recording on the piano, only moving to the organ at the last moment. My favourite recording is by the blind organist, Helmut Walcha [1907-91] who is considerably slower than Gould over Contrapuncti I-IX, 39 mins against 31 minutes.

Gould’s phrasing and articulation is worthy of repeated listening but I was left with the feeling that I was party to some intense quasi-religious experience that was unfolding inside the artist’s head. This created a barrier between myself and the music. The contrast between Contrapuncti I, II, IV and IX played on the organ and piano is remarkable, almost as if two different artists were playing.

Since opinions about Gould’s playing of Bach will continue to be fiercely debated, this cannot be recommended unreservedly. However, it is well worth hearing and is obviously an important offering within the diversity of responses to one of the greatest achievements of Western music.

The anonymous text was particularly informative about Gould’s approach to Bach.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I cannot understand how this wonderful recording is available at this low price. I also cannot compete with the musical erudition of the two previous reviewers, but I thank them for their reviews and can only say, if you love J.S.Bach, buy this.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2009
Just why Glenn Gould, one of the greatest pianists of his generation, should have chosen to record the first half of this work on a squeezebox-type organ can only be put down to his wilful eccentricity. To me it is profoundly disappointing. The piano playing, however, of the few fugues he did record on his own instrument is awe-inspiringly magnificent and hypnotic. So five stars for the piano - considerably less for the organ. And bags of frustration that Gould never recorded the whole work on the piano.
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on 23 September 2014
This is a great selection of Bach's best and sophisticated musical masterpieces played by one of, if not, the best organists to play Bach
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on 21 May 2013
The CD met my expectations. The quality is excellent.
I would recommend it to all Bach lovers.
Glen Gould superb!
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