Gould's genius evident on recordings

Critic's choice

Classical Music

September 22, 2002|By TIM SMITH

This past Wednesday would have been Glenn Gould's 70th birthday. Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the irreplaceable pianist's death. To mark the two occasions, Sony Classical has released a must-have, double commemoration: "Glenn Gould: A State of Wonder" (Sony Classical S3K 87703) - Gould's two downright historic recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations, from 1955 and 1981.

It's fitting that the Goldberg Variations turned out to be the musical bookends of Gould's life. The 1955 recording, full of astonishing finger work and fresh insights into Bach's genius, made him an instant star. The mostly slower '81 version, done 18 years after the pianist abandoned concert life and effectively became a recluse, is even more incisive. Both interpretations (accompanied by Gould's trademark sing-along habit) demonstrate transcendent, truly joyful music-making.

Even folks who own previous releases of these two landmark products will want to get this attractively packaged reissue, especially since the '81 recording has been remastered with extraordinary results. It was originally issued in the then-novel digital format; complaints about its brittle sound were universal. Fortunately, analog tapes were also made of the recording session and those tapes provided the source for this much warmer result.

A bonus disc includes a droll interview Gould recorded with Washington Post music critic Tim Page and outtakes from the '55 Goldberg session.

Even a random aim of the laser beam on any track of these recordings will reveal why Gould remains a classical music icon. Hearing the two complete performances explains why he remains so sorely missed.

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