There is intense commitment everywhere to be heard in these very "alive" Bach performances. I was about to write "fierce" instead of "intense", and maybe therein lies the one problem that I have with episodes in them: Gould's playing can momentarily feel relentless and fiercely unyielding, particularly when the left hand is playing loudly.
That reservation now behind me (and different people will react differently to those episodes) I need to stress how very fine the performances are in other respects, and that they will give most listeners great pleasure, with tremendous momentum and "Schwung" in the swift movements, and great purity and delicacy in the slow ones. This music clearly mattered enormously to Glenn Gould, and he could convey exactly what he wanted to convey.
There will be some listeners who may prefer a more mainstream interpreter, Andras Schiff, for example. (I greatly admire Schiff: the word "mainstream" is not intended to denigrate him in any way.) These would be listeners who find Gould's playing too individual and too characterful. With Gould's playing, whether such qualities are felt to be marks of genius or to go too far and become defects is a matter of personal response. There isn't any doubt about his exalted level of skill and musicality as an executant. It is rather a question of how the individual listener reacts to the pianist's interpretative choices.
Prospective buyers should note that the F major Concerto BWV 1057 is missing from this set because Gould did not record it. The excellent liner notes go into fascinating detail about the pianist's Puritan attitude to performing, in particular to playing concertos, and are informative and thought-provoking.
Altogether a fine set of performances that are in almost every way outstanding, and very decently recorded. How very much poorer our lives would be without Bach having lived, but also (and maybe not quite in the same breath) if Glenn Gould had never lived!
Glen Gould seems to get under the skin of Bach better than most anyone else. Who knows if Bach himself wanted it played like this, but Gould seems to find a depth and meaning that others miss. Remarkable, and a performance that everyone who loves Bach must own.
Like all Bach keyboard works played by Gould, this is simply the best playing of his concertos. It is incomplete as Gould never recorded no.6, and no.1 is in mono. Even so it is so much better played then either Schiff or Perahia. They all play Bach, whereas Gould lived Bach.
When I first really (and finally after much youthful resistance: Bach's too formal, too rigid, isn't he? - no, wrong) appreciated Bach's piano work, it was only through Gould's playing. These various recordings grouped by Sony under the "Glenn Gould Collection" are wonderful. And great value: 3 or 4 CDs in one box. Perfect also to work to - the musical intricacy, variety and virtuosity stimulate the brain. Bach and Excel really do go together.