It may be that the best way to experience late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould is to listen to one of his classic Bach recordings straight through, for in addition to his distinctive, not to say quirky approach to local textures, he was a formidable architectural thinker. Gould has receded far enough into the past, however, that there must be a sizable contingent of potential buyers for this Essential Glenn Gould collection. There are a lot of famous Gould recordings on here, humming and all. The question is whether the 50/50 Bach
on-Bach division (the first CD is all Bach, the second devoted to other composers) is the right one for this collection. Gould's Bach was idiosyncratic but widely thought brilliant. The same is not true for his readings of other composers, which start at idiosyncratic and decline to downright insulting. There is no reason to include Gould's recording of Mozart's "Piano Sonata in C major, K. 545," in a set of this kind; Gould himself said that he recorded Mozart only to show that Mozart died not too soon but too late. His Scarlatti, also marked by dislike, is hardly more listenable, and even with Beethoven there are few who would call Gould's readings essential. Not all is lost on disc two, however; Haydn, curiously, receives more respectful treatment, and Gould, who was full of surprises, deliverd several in the form of little-known pieces that one would never have expected him to record. Especially intriguing is the set of "Variations chromatiques" of Bizet, which achieves an unsuspected rhapsodic intensity in Gould's hands; the little piece from Sibelius' "Kyllikki" is another mostly forgotten find. The Bach side is fine, with a complete "Italian Concerto," reasonable representations of the small keyboard works that were essential components of the classical listener's living room in the 1960s and a good chunk of the recording that made Gould famous, the 1955 version of the "Goldberg Variations, BWV 988." (The aria theme from Gould's valedictory 1981 re-recording of the piece bookends the Bach program.) It may be that a 75/25 proportion would have allowed for some more extended Bach excerpts. But it's also true that Gould was nothing if not outrageous and that a basic collection of his music should embody that aspect of his personality. Informative notes are in English and French, and the remastering, aided by the fact that Gould's recordings were obsessively produced in the first place, is smooth.