So much has been said and written about Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings that most classical music listeners have not paid attention to his fabulous renditions of the Beethoven piano concertos. We at Impex are hoping to change this. Once you hear Gould's magnificent pianism and the inspired conducting of Leonard Bernstein in the vast acoustical space of the Manhattan Center, we are certain that Gould’s Beethoven piano concertos will take their rightful place alongside his celebrated Goldberg Variations.
Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto is often overshadowed by the more-often-reissued fifth (Emperor) piano concerto. Unlike the showy fifth, the fourth is a more personal work, one that shows a more spiritual Beethoven. After hearing numerous workaday renditions of the Beethoven concertos, we tend to look for inspired performances. No recording by Glenn Gould is uninspired. Much like his companion on this recording, Leonard Bernstein, Gould is often erratic, but never boring, and his Beethoven Fourth brings a fresh light to this favorite composition. The new Impex 180-gram pressing will make it a favorite of audiophiles.
It wasn’t Woodstock when Beethoven premiered his Fourth Piano Concerto, but it might have been the single greatest classical concert in the history of Western music. By 1808 Beethoven was the darling of Vienna. The big event, at the Theater an der Wien, also included the world premier of both his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, parts of his C major Mass, his Choral Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, and the aria "Ah, perfido," Op. 65. For good measure, Beethoven threw in a few lengthy improvisations. The concert was described later as comparable to being present at the creation of the world; however, the show didn’t really go all that well. The orchestra was poorly rehearsed, and there were constant interruptions. Beethoven would leap from the piano to finger a flagging musician, which caused the small boys next to him to drop their candles and he could no longer see the score. It was freezing in December, and the building had no heat. Both audience and musicians were cold and grumpy as the concert turned into a four-hour slog.
The new piano concerto arrived between the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and with faint reaction from the normally discerning Viennese audience, it got lost in the mix. Beethoven never played the concerto again, and within a few years he abandoned the genre entirely. Perhaps his failing hearing reduced his love for public performance.
Sometimes music needs to find its era, and happily in the classical world time can turn the obscure into gold. Impex Records unearthed a 24-karat nugget when it dug into Sony’s vast Columbia vault and pulled out Glenn Gould’s recording of the No.4 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. As a youngster, Gould took Beethoven’s score into his bedroom for study, only to emerge a few hours later to play the G major Concerto for the first time, note perfect and entirely from memory. At fourteen, he performed the piece with the Toronto Symphony at his public orchestral debut, and it remained special for him throughout his career. Despite being a strong-willed control freak whose talent let him perform any music in whatever manner he chose, when Gould played the Fourth he sublimated control to Beethoven, opting for the composer’s most difficult cadenzas.
The G major broke with tradition, beginning not with the orchestra but with the piano. Its opening bars are a tiny hymn with a subtle genius that places the soloist (the hero) on an equal footing with the authority of the collective. Gould’s piano speaks with a poised lyricism, while the Philharmonic builds on the solo theme in a wholly different key, its response brusque with energy and action.
The brief second movement opens with a turgid, almost funereal orchestra to which the piano answers sweetly. A minute longer than normal, Gould’s dramatically deliberate Andante is never lethargic. Here, the piano finds little effect from its efforts at dialog, finally launching into a cadenza so stunningly beautiful it resolves the dialectical tension and tames the gruff orchestra.
In the Rondo, timpani and trumpets enter at last, as piano and orchestra intertwine in reconciliation. The music becomes spirited with infectious joy. There are points here and in the first movement where Bernstein shows a slight unwillingness to take the yoke of Gould’s phrasing, but, in true heroic fashion, the soloist wins out. The piano takes two complex cadenzas that challenge musician and instrument alike. Finally -- as if someone offstage signaled him to wrap it up -- Beethoven jacks the tempo into high gear and the piece cavorts to conclusion.
I’ve heard no other recording of this work come close to Gould’s rhythmic control, tenderness and sheer conviction, all without hint of bravura. Fleisher is delicate yet occasionally rushed and automatic. Ashkenazy with the Vienna Philharmonic is marvelously dexterous yet mono-dynamic. Kempff with the Berlin Philharmonic is lighthearted -- a bit too much so -- and while I love his Chopin, Arrau just seems to mail it in. Gould owns the piece: his Andante makes Beethoven personal; his rondo is as adroit as his Bach. Here is a master at the peak of his powers playing a work he knows intimately.
Like a gunslinger who files down the firing pin, Gould tweaked his Steinway for fast action and total control. The Impex reissue makes this obvious. Throughout (and especially in the solo passages), the LP lays bare the instrument: a box of strings struck by hammers, resonant and harmonic. Even at the fastest tempos, Gould’s technique yields a clear articulation of tone, nuance and dynamic on each note from each hand. In a fine confluence of sound and performance, Columbia engineered an impeccable sonic balance between soloist and orchestra. Today, Impex brings us a vinyl remaster as fresh, clear, and full-bodied as the day it was captured in 1961. Kevin Gray’s all-analog remaster of this six-eye gem turns a perfect triple Lutz into a quadruple Axel. Gray does not try to make an audiophile diva from an already fine recording, and the quiet, tick-free 180-gram vinyl really sticks the landing.
If your collection is missing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, it lacks an essential piece of classical music. If it lacks Glenn Gould’s version, you are missing a quintessential performance.
Impex Records is the exciting audiophile label from the team that brought you Cisco Music. With more than 20 years experience and 150 titles released, Cisco Music developed many of the techniques used by other labels to make higher quality 180-gram LPs, SACDs and Gold and aluminum CDs.
We brought definitive editions Jennifer Warnes' The Well, The Hunter and Famous Blue Raincoat in multiple formats, including a 45 rpm box set that Absolute Sound magazine declared "defines the state-of-the--art in vinyl playback." Other classic reissues we nurtured to fantastic rebirths include the jazz-rock perfection of Steely Dan's Aja, Joan Baez' Farewell Angelina, NathanMilstein's poetic interpretation of Dvorak's Violin Concerto and four exquisite 45-rpm Three Blind Mice LPs.
Even in our humbler origins we were trusted with the distribution and production of The Super Analogue Disc, the original audiophile 180-gram LPs. King Records recognized, from the very beginning, that Cisco Music brought unflinching passion to the music and unflailing dedication to the process of bringing that music to the most discerning listeners in the world.
Now as Impex Records some of the original Cisco staff (Abey Fonn, Robert Pincus and Robert Sliger), along with Robert Donnelly, will follow and expand our own high standards for a new generation of audiophile products. Analog products will always be cut using analog tapes and analog mastering at the finest mastering facilities like Sterling, Cohearent and Bernie Grundman--just as it should be. Gold CD's will always be cut with high-definition digital or analog tape transfers from original sources. We will introduce America to Sony's revolutionary Blu-Spec CD, which redefines production excellence in 16-bit digital playback.
With a singular vision for making the best records anywhere, Impex Records is poised to expand Cisco Music's peerless legacy well into the 21st century. It's going to be quite a journey and we look forward to your joining us. We have committed ourselves, with every new release, to your complete satisfaction.