Two Ends of Eccentricity: Gulda and Gould

Q2 Music Album of the Week for July 16, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sasha Grynyuk/Friedrich Gulda/Glenn Gould

One would be hard pressed to find two figures of 20th century "classical" music as brilliantly eccentric — both personally and in the concert hall — as pianist/composers Friedrich Gulda and Glenn Gould. Gulda made last-minute program changes onstage and (in)famously faked his death so that his 1999 concert at the Vienna Konzerthaus would be promoted as his resurrection party. Gould reportedly abhorred physical contact, wrapped himself in winter clothes on balmy summer days and insisted that he perform sitting in an old chair made by his father.

Outside of their personal and performance eccentricities, and an eventual avoidance of Romantic repertoire (particularly Chopin), however, the two took nearly opposite musical directions. Gould’s most famously remembered for his brilliant and sensitive performances of J.S. Bach. As his career progressed, the Austrian-born Gulda increasing drew inspiration from American jazz—without ever losing site of his hero Mozart.

On the surface, then, the two make a strange pairing for the young Ukranian pianist Sasha Grynyuk’s new album of solo piano works.

The first half of “Sasha Grynyuk/Friedrich Gulda/Glenn Gould” is dedicated to Gulda’s playful and eclectic Play Piano Play, a work of ten miniatures fully immersed in the swung sounds of 50s and early 60s jazzers, albeit filtered through a lens of concert music technique and impressionistic flourishes. Grynyuk’s precise delivery ensures that the music swings without ever losing track of it’s “classical” roots.

The album’s halfway shift from Gulda’s playful bebop allusions to Gould’s dense contrapuntal tangles is a nearly 180 degree turn. Beginning with Gould’s alternately clinical and stormy 1948 Piano Sonata, Grynyuk offers a buoyant, responsive touch to the Second Viennese-school indebted Five Short Pieces for Piano (1950) and the more pointilistic miniatures Two Pieces for Piano (1951/52).

For the album’s final track, Grynyuk offers a new arrangement of Gould’s humorous educational “hit” So You Want To Write a Fugue, written for the television broadcast of The Anatomy of Fugue, a feature Gould produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1963.

While Gulda and Gould may not make for the most intuitive album pairing, the two composers' virtuosic approaches that ultimately drew from different extremes of the musical spectrum make for an impressive showcase for Grynyuk’s own versatility and facility, proving a voice as adept to Gulda’s lush impressionistic jazz as it is Gould’s neurotic counterpoint.

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Comments [1]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

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When he finished a [recording] session, drenched with sweat from the energy he had expended, Gould would disappear to change his shirt, and then reemerge. But instead of putting on his hat and coat, he would sit back down at the piano and play whatever came into his head: a show tune like "Some Enchanted Evening," or a jazz standard like Duke Ellington's "Caravan." "It just rolled out of him," Edquist observed, but it wasn't only Gould" It was the piano as well. There was a lot more sound than usual coming out of CD 318, perhaps because Gould, ordinarily very sparing in his use of the sustain pedal, would put it to full use when he was playing, or riffing on, popular music - and he also used more keys than he needed for Bach, thereby realizing the full potential of the instrument. "It was a house full of piano," Edquist said. "Every note was almost resonating with every chord. It was times like that when I called the piano a harmonic fountain." It was in those playful post session moments that Gould was at his most relaxed.
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Verne Edquist was Glenn Gould's piano tuner. He was effectively ("legally?") blind.

The quote is from "A Romance on Three Legs, Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano" by Katie Hafner - an excellent book about Steinway CD 318 and the two people most directly involved in the beautiful music it produced.

The pull quote reminded me of something Jonathan Schwartz told about a Tony Bennett recording session with jazz great pianist Bill Evans - a friend of Gould. In preparing for a particular track Evans would play the melody repeatedly, but with differing styles. As Bennett listened he was amazed at the playing of each rendition, all beautiful but different. He then turned to the recording tech and asked, "Are you recording this?"

Evans recorded his CD, "Conversations with Myself" with Steinway CD 318.

Oct. 02 2012 11:32 AM

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Q2 Music's Album of the Week is our weekly review of the newest and most dynamic contemporary classical releases. It focuses on musical discovery, world premiere recordings and fresh perspectives on today's classical landscape. Read our review and stream the album on-demand for one week only at www.wqxr.org/q2music/

 

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