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on 20 October 2010
When this famous, some would say notorious, recording was made in 1966 Gould was thirty-four and Stokowski was nearly half a century older. The following year another two great artists, Daniel Barenboim and Otto Klemperer, with an even greater age difference, would also make a highly individual recording of this concerto. These two accounts are very different but, in my view, equally fascinating. In an age when there is so much emphasis on a literal representation of the score in performance, the account by Gould and Stokowski will raise eyebrows and even shock people. But then these two artists would surely have agreed with Gustav Mahler when he said that the score contains everything - except the essentials!

To a certain extent they each do their own thing in the first movement, which in places in their hands has an almost rhapsodic quality. Gould responds to Stokowski's quite splendid opening chords, for instance, in an almost improvisatory way, treating the solo part almost like a kind of opening cadenza. This divergence continues through much of the movement with Stokowski pressing on and Gould sometimes choosing to linger. Stokowski brings out much detail in the orchestra that is not always heard to full effect and, as always with him, the playing is often very illuminating and exciting. The slow movement is played very beautifully, if just a shade too slowly for my liking. In the finale the two artists simply come together and enjoy making music, and what music!

This is not, perhaps, a performance to have as a sole recording of this concerto in a CD collection, and perhaps should only be played occasionally lest its quirks begin to sound like mannerisms. It certainly makes you sit up and take notice and perhaps regret the passing of an age when musicians were not afraid to be different. But then, Gould and Stokowski were not merely different; they were unique and we shall never hear anyone remotely like them again.

The recorded sound, originally CBS, is not of the best 1960s vintage, but is quite acceptable. The piano is recorded just a bit too close and now and again prevents some orchestral detail from being heard. A fascinating, stimulating and challenging performance to place in a collection with others, and well worth its modest price.
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Is Gould still thought to be some species of eccentric? He has never struck me that way, at least as a musician. Where he was certainly unusual was in being willing to experiment in his interpretations, and this particular `Emperor' gives us a few examples of what he was liable to do when he felt like it. The famous opening flourishes are not flourishes at all here, but are picked over slowly as if Gould were improvising. Add to that some trills that are not my idea of trills either, just plain semiquavers, and we have come to the end of a very short list of features that might be characterised as definitely non-standard. The basic speeds adopted in the first and last movements are certainly on the slow side too, but without having checked I seem to recall that Rubinstein used to take the first movement at a rather similar pace, and plenty of soloists (Ashkenazy comes to mind) are moderato-merchants in the finale.

It's not exactly the outer limits, so one issue we need to decide for ourselves is how well we like the way Gould (with Stokowski - let's not be forgetting him) handles what is for the most part quite a normal approach to the concerto. The other is, of course, the question of the special features, and so far as I am concerned they make an interesting change but nothing I would want to see adopted more widely. Indeed I should be surprised if Gould himself standardised them even for his own performances. I was careful a moment ago to talk about `basic' speeds in the outer movements, because there is a fair amount of rise and fall in the pulse, sometimes seeming to originate with the soloist but more often with the conductor, as if he were reminding young Mr Gould, in a very nice way, not to lose the basic thread. In fact between them they handle this matter rather attractively, as if they were comfortable with each other, giving a pleasant impression of spontaneity.

However the impression that I most want to emphasise is the feeling of `quality' about the whole event. Give or take anyone's view regarding Gould's interpretation of this (or any) classic, he was a player among players of the piano. He was no great enthusiast for Beethoven, but one feature of Beethoven's style that is completely unique is what Tovey calls `the peculiar brilliance of Beethoven's irregular runs', and I'm not sure I ever heard this feature make as much impact as it makes in Gould's hands here. Just listen to some of the famous chromatic scales in the first movement, and to one or two pieces of similar phrasing in the finale, and I'm sure you will hear quite clearly what I mean. Again, for sheer professionalism it would be hard to beat the precision with which Gould dovetails his phrasing into the orchestral entries. Another A++ goes to the two magnificent passages in the first movement where triplet semiquavers in the right hand are played against a powerful descending sequence of staccato triplet quavers in the left. Gould can mount the podium along with Serkin and Michelangeli for his triumphant despatch of this rhythmic challenge, without the sense of nervousness that afflicts many performers, and no wonder.

Quality is not the soloist's sole prerogative either. We have a great conductor here, and obviously a fine orchestra, whoever `The American Symphony Orchestra' were in real life. First impressions count, and this recording captures that unique first chord as few can have done in 1966. It is completely unmistakable, is it not? Try to get your musical friends to reproduce it on the piano and/or account for its special sound, and see how many know that there is no B flat in it. As usual in the 60's and 70's the solo is recorded too close to the microphone, but taking that as read I found a remarkably rich and strong orchestral sound, the confidence of the players answering the fighting spirit of the composer as he struggled to save the remnants of his hearing in 1809. Taking the entire ensemble as one, you may well find on this disc the most beautiful account of the slow movement that you have ever heard.

There is what might, I suppose, be called a liner note, but it is only the sleeve note from the original LP photoreduced to fit a cd and consequently in micro-print. What it says I can't tell you, because although my eyesight remains surprisingly good for my age, this note begins `When Ludwig van Beethoven...', and that was as far as I would have wanted to read in any typeface. However I am not through with Mr Gould and the Emperor Concerto, because I have just learned that there is another account by him this time partnered by Krips and the Buffalo S O. Rumour has it that this performance is of a very different nature, so, if you have been, thanks for listening this far, and I shall be back with news of how the alternative strikes me.
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on 16 July 2014
I have several recordings of this concerto (Arrau, Serkin, Gilels, Brendel - you can tell which generation I'm in) but I'd never heard this one until I bought it here the other day. To be honest I bought it as much out of curiosity as musical expectation. All my other Gould recordings are his solo Bach pieces - I'd never heard him up against an orchestra. This seemed to me to be a very ill-matched pairing: Gould's fanatical details and attention-seeking in how he played (what else can you call it?) up against a boisterous crowd-pleaser like Stokowski. But even with those descriptions you can't deny they were both great musicians. How would they work together?
I've been astounded and delighted. Stokowski really drives the orchestra and they respond magnificently. In the first and third movements they're sawing and blowing as if they're lives depended on it. There is no holding back. But in the second movement he has them as smooth and silken and restrained as you could like. Perhaps the two styles are too extreme and a little more subtlety would be welcome, but hey, it's Stokowski. And how does the mild-mannered fussy Gould perform? Like a giant. Again the two outside movements are full on. You'd swear that Gould was about 2m tall and weighed 100kilos. His attack sounds like a much heavier muscular player than I expected or he was. His adagio is beautiful - almost like a different pianist. It is very slow - almost a minute longer than some of my other recordings - but you can happily lose yourself in that extra time and come out feeling rejuvenated at the tentative entry to the third movement.

As someone else wrote, this may not be the only recording of this concerto to own, but now that I've got it I'd hate to be without it.
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on 25 June 2010
A very acomplished rendering of the Emperor, as one would expect frpm Stokowski and Gould. However, this work needs to be played with passion and, at times, a lightness of touch - both Gould and Stokowski seem to be ruled rather by a metronome, instead of the heart, so it is a very lifeless affair.
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on 20 November 2010
you can't beat the classics
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