Gidon Kremer plays the violin, his Kremerata Baltica violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and percussion. Glenn Gould played the piano. And therein lies the appeal of these 11 pieces, hearing the music that Gould made, and vice versa, arranged for and performed by strings. The album is enjoyable from beginning to end. But it’s too bad only three of the contributors—Valentin Silvestrov, Giya Kancheli, Steven Kovacs Tickmayer—waxed really reinterpretive and made from Gould’s Bach and Schoenberg obsessions something that Gould himself would have enjoyed: something new.
The “Orchestral Suites” predominate, but it’s the “Five Shakespeare Sonnets” that will focus the attention of the verbally inclined. (Have a copy of the poems on hand; Leytush’s operatic singers aren’t big on enunciation.) The reason such focusing is helpful is that Sisler’s compositions tend not to be immediately hospitable to the untrained ear. They’re impressionistic, for one thing, and therefore playing by the rules of an increasingly foreign game. Elvis Presley could never have conceived of what Sisler’s “Baccalaureate” does with the melody of “Love Me Tender.”
Fifty pieces (composed between 1957 and 2010) on two nearly 80-minute discs—it’s almost too much. Too much, that is, to appreciate fully if one is beset by impatience. From the outset, Moak interprets Zaimont’s infusion of old-fashioned Romanticism into new-fashioned Anything Goes with attention-grabbing exactness and zest. Yet what is the unifying element? Play, with all of the childhood joyfulness and innocent improvisatory freedom that that word at its richest implies. Quotations from familiar works occasionally emerge, but it’s the whole that impresses.
Flamenco may not technically be a category of “classical” music, but even if the Barcelona-born José Luis Montón had not based his composition “Air” on a well-known melody from Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major,” his precise, dynamically varied, and rhythmically acute guitar plucking and strumming could still earn him a booking at Lincoln Center. At its most crystalline, his guitar takes on a harp-like quality. At its most musically and mysteriously architectural, it could give “building castles in Spain” a good name.
Why it took the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences 30 years to give the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who died in 1982, a Lifetime Achievement Award is anyone’s guess. What isn’t up for speculation is that no performer ever deserved it more. Anyone desiring proof need look (or listen) no further than The Complete Bach Collection, the 38-CD, six-DVD Gould box set that Sony Classical released last fall to mark what would have been Gould’s 80th birthday.
Where to start? The packaging is magnificent, from the miniature album-cover reproductions to the 191-page hardcover liner notes. Also, as two of Gould’s Bach LPs were paired with pieces by another composer Gould admired, one gets some Beethoven as well. There are live recordings and outtakes. And the DVDs, containing the pianist’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television appearances, are invaluable. Besides fascinating interviews (Gould was a great talker), they preserve the wonderfully unique spectacle of Gould in performance, enraptured.