Glenn Gould's commercial success with the "basic" repertoire – all it took was the first Bach Goldberg record – bought him the key to CBS studios. He made extravagant use of the privilege, recording whatever and whenever he liked. About the only thing CBS nixed was his proposed satire on the 1960's Vladimir Horowitz "comeback" albums. (Vestiges of that found their way into Gould's Silver Jubilee Album.) All in all, CBS's gamble paid dividends. Sales of his legendary Bach more than offset the losses racked up by such somnolent rarities as piano music by Strauss and Sibelius. And his willful interpretations kept the critics completely at odds, and Gould in the news.
The Hindemith sonatas, recorded in 1966 and 1973, are a triumph of the anti-canonical spirit. They are oblique, ugly pieces, sounding in places like Ravel and Bach mated with a ball-peen hammer. As the Gould liner notes point out, Hindemith (especially the late revisionist Hindemith) was not one to sacrifice "the ritual of craft" for the "creative idea." Not that this music is wrongheaded; this is just the way Hindemith did things. The dense fugal episodes (the Third Sonata's triple-fugue closure) are passionately awkward, but the composer's technical precision makes the experience completely worthwhile. And there are moments of great beauty; the opening bars of the First Sonata make a solitary, restful statement. On the paranoid side is the "Sehr lebhaft" of the Third, where Gould takes off on a spree of hyper-pianism that is untouchable. It reminded me of Gould's stunning hopscotch through the Prokofieff Seventh Sonata.
I found this Masterworks Portrait at Tower Records, which claims to have only a limited supply. There are some very attractive releases in this midprice series. This particular disc has fine remastered sound, and Gould's vocal enhancements are practically absent. (You will probably find Hindemith as difficult to hum along with as he did.) His notes, baroque but entertaining, won a Grammy. Warmly recommended.
Copyright © 1998, Robert J. Sullivan