CD Review: Glenn Gould Complete Bach Edition

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While Glenn Gould was a pianist who performed the works of many composers, his name is inextricably linked to that of Johann Sebastian Bach. More than any other composer, Bach was Gould’s speciality. From his first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1955 to his final recording, again of the Goldberg Variations in 1981, Gould recorded nearly all of Bach’s keyboard music.

This set groups all of Gould’s Bach recordings for around $115; not only those released on LP and CD, but also a number of previously unreleased recordings: outtakes from the 1955 Goldbergs recording session; a stereo mix of the 1955 Goldbergs; some preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, from 1952 and 1954; and two live recordings, from 1957 and 1959, of the Goldbergs (Salzburg Festival, August, 1959) and the Sinfonias (Moscow, May, 1957). There are two discs of interviews with Gould – one with Tim Page, and another with John McClure – and a disc of Gould speaking about Bach in German. There are a total of 38 CDs.

This set also includes DVDs; 6 of them. Three of these are directed by Bruno Monsaigneon, featuring the Goldbergs on one, and two others with a variety of works. And three others are from the CBC, from 1957 to 1970, featuring Gould (and others) playing a variety of Bach’s works. Many Gould fans are familiar with the Monsaigneon films, as they have been widely circulated – especially the Goldberg Variations video, which was my first introduction to seeing Glenn Gould perform. The CBC videos are less common, though they have been released in a 10-DVD set Glenn Gould on Television. What we have in the Bach set is, naturally, the Bach performances taken from that set. If you’re a die-hard Gould fan, you’ll want to get the full DVD set as well.

Together with all these discs is a 192-page hardcover book, with some introductory essays, and with notes for each disc. Unfortunately, the notes are very succinct, and while the disc covers reproduce original LPs, the notes on them are too small to read without a microscope. (Is it that hard to include a CD or DVD with PDFs of these things?)

If you’re a fan of Glenn Gould, you may already have the Complete Original Jacket Collection, on 80 CDs, which contains most of what’s in this set, but you won’t have the outtakes, live recordings and DVDs. This set, at a not-quite-bargain price, is worth getting for these extras alone, if you appreciate Gould. Especially since Bach is what Gould did best.

Nice packaging, a fair price, and a bunch of previously unreleased material makes this a good purchase for any fan of Glenn Gould. If you’re not familiar with his admittedly idiosyncratic recordings of Bach’s keyboard works, this would be a good chance to discover one of the most original of performers. You may love Gould or hate him, but you can’t deny that, when he played Bach, he was channelling something transcendent.

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13 replies
  1. Matt says:

    “That nut is a genius.” I love listening to these performances, but not for the sake of Bach, musicality, etc. – just for the sake of Glenn Gould’s peculiar brilliance.

  2. Ruud says:

    Thanks for the review, just one little thing:

    “Note 2: Glenn Gould died 50 years ago today (October 4, 1982).”

    I’m pretty sure he died 30 years ago at the age of 50?

  3. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the notice about this set. I like your idea about PDFs of the album notes. Do PDFs exist anywhere?

    • kirk says:

      Not for this, but some labels do provide them, notably with big box sets; they’ll have a DVD with notes, libretti, etc.

  4. Eric says:

    Am pretty sure I will get this treasure, but just wondered if you know if these have been remastered or in any way are in better sound than earlier issues of same material? Thanks!

  5. Eric says:

    Thank you Kirk, for the virtually instantaneous response! I’ll still be curious to see the publication info on the item.

  6. Shaun Hutchinson says:

    Really enjoyed these Gould posts I searched for on Kirkville™ I watched the documentary last night ‘Genius Within’ on Netflix from 2009, about Gould’s life fascinating.
    Makes me want to get in a time machine back to the late 70′s and turn up at Fran’s diner inToronto at 2am to join him for a plate of scrambled eggs….loved the Wagner solo piano music….amazing… I see he played some Berg too, my favourite.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      I didn’t know about that documentary; thanks for pointing it out.

      Coincidence: one of my best friends as a teenager was the daughter of Gould’s record producer. Had I only known about Gould’s music back then…

  7. Shaun Hutchinson says:

    Wow! Amazing the documentary was fascinating, its on Netlix USA. Really enjoyed these posts. I can appreciate his vision much more now….

  8. Shaun Hutchinson says:

    There was a really interesting guy in the documentary who spent ages with Glenn Gould in the 70′s recording his music, was it his daughter? amazing! Gould asked him to be his brother in a legal ceremony.


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