Review Summary: Like a sunday drive acid trip...
Classical music: Whether loved or hated, it simply predates everything hip, groovy, kvlt, or otherwise. It may go unnoticed by the heathen masses, but the music of composers centuries past permeates our modern soundscape on a global level. Any student of film can speak to the emotional manipulation made possible by these antiquitous reverberations. Though generally accepted as affecting (both positively and negatively), you are unlikely to share the opinion that “Classical Rocks!” That is, of course, unless you make yearly contributions to your local public radio station. In defense of the genre I offer this album as exhibit #1.
In 1955 an ambitious young Canadian pianist by the name of Glenn Herbert Gould sat down to record The Goldberg Variations
of Johann Sebastian Bach. The material was considered too esoteric to be commercially successful, yet a brazen performance vaulted Gould to international stardom and became one the most celebrated classical recordings of the 20th century. Some fifty years later the performance remains relevant.
The Goldberg Variations
consist of 30 variations and two arias serving as bookends. Notes and melodies swirl about in all directions here, with fluttering fingers and keystrokes dominating the bulk of the material. Gould was renown for the unsurpassed clarity of his playing, even with the remarkable speed exhibited on many variations. Brisk and whimsical occasionally gives way somber and deliberate, but this serves to give the listener a welcome respite from more intense, even overwhelming selections. Remarkable here is the manner in which sounds seem to flirt with each other in ways seemingly counterintuitive, even alien. The effect would be disturbing if not so utterly hypnotic. Mr. Gould’s performance at times seems to eclipse mere virtuosity for the superhuman, reminding me of a certain six-fingered pianist in the film GATTACA. It is important to understand that the music found here is an interpretation of Bach. It is the passion and intentions of this iconic baroque figure filtered through the soul of a cocksure young Canadian, and transmitted through his nimble fingers.
Glenn Gould is almost as well known for his bizarre behaviors as his musical virtuosity. Among these would be an extreme aversion to cold and a plentitude of neurotic performance requirements. The most relevant eccentricity for purposes of this review would be the habitual ‘humming’ Glen would exhibit during performance. To the sound engineer’s dismay, this sometimes becomes audible throughout The Goldberg Variations
, as well as other recordings. Some, including this author, find it an endearing quality, indicative of the passion and commitment Gould instilled in his playing. Those intrigued should know that intimate knowledge the man behind the music allows for a finer appreciation of this bewitching recording.
For those who set aside a place for classical amidst all the skramz, jams, and joints, The Goldberg Variations
is simply essential.