Gould Goldberg 1954

Glenn Gould is particularly famous in Canada, but also over much of the world for his recordings of Bach's piano music ... which ironically wasn't written for piano. The piano didn't exist when Bach was composing: he wrote for the harpsichord. Since the harpsichord plucks its strings (rather than hammering them as the piano does), it has extremely limited ability to vary the volume, giving the piano a huge edge in expressiveness.

Gould has two very famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations, one from 1955 and one from 1981. I prefer the 1955, which is livelier - although some people might argue that what I actually mean by that is a significantly faster tempo. It also involves a lot less humming, something Gould was notorious for. I just picked up a third Gould recording of the Goldbergs: this was recorded by the CBC in 1954, and was apparently lost to the world until 1995, when someone dug it out of the National Library of Canada and CBC pressed it on CD. The booklet includes the rather dubious claim "[this] takes its place as Gould's fourth complete version of the piece before the public today. It, too, will sell." Not if I have any say in the matter. (Being 20 years late to the fray and totally unnoticed by the review-reading world, it may be assumed I don't have any say. Not that that's ever stopped me before.)

The recording is mono, periodically staticky, and staggeringly tinny. It's also very similar - as you might expect - to the much better recorded (although still mono) 1955 studio recording. In effect it sounds like a rehearsal for that performance. I'm sure from a historical perspective and for serious fans of Gould, this is an important recording: for anyone else, just listen to the 1955.