With Leonard Bernstein
New York Philarmonic
performance of April 6, 1962
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So here it is at last, the first official release of one of the most famous performances from the mid-twentieth century - the fabled Glenn Gould/Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic interpretation of Johannes Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor.
Imagine yourself in the audience of Carnegie Hall on the day of the concert - April 6, 1962, near the close of the 71st (and last) season the Philharmonic played in the old auditorium, just before the move uptown to Lincoln Center. Listener anticipation must have been enormous; long before the distinction was debased, both Gould and Bernstein were authentic superstars: youthful, charismatic and positively welling over with talent.
If Bernstein was something of a known quantity to regular attendees (this was his fifth year as the Philharmonic's music director), Gould was an increasingly rare presence in the concert hall. The pianist had already developed a habit of canceling events at the last minute (a quirk to which Bernstein makes an allusion in the opening comments) and Gould would play his last public recital less than two years later.
The two men had worked and recorded together before without event (three of the five Beethoven piano concertos and Bach's Concerto in D Minor are currently available on compact disc). But a disagreement broke out as they were preparing the Brahms: Gould wanted to play it more slowly and meditatively than was customary, while Bernstein urged a "traditionalist" approach.
The compromise? They played it Gould's way, although Bernstein felt honor-bound to comment to the audience before the performance and gently disassociate himself from what was to come. Although some leading critics exploded indignantly about it all the following day, this has always struck me as an eminently civilized decision - and, indeed, Gould himself told me that he was entirely in favor of Bernstein's introductory remarks. "Soloists and conductors disagree all the time," he said in 1982. "Why should this be hidden from the public, especially if both parties still give their all?" Certainly, Bernstein churned up a fine fury from the Philharmonic, which played particularly well for him that afternoon; if the conductor didn't believe in the interpretation, one never would have known it from the performance. The opening movement is undeniably broad, as Gould had insisted, but it no longer seems so terribly far beyond the usual bounds. (See Schuyler Chapin's article for some surprising information about Bernstein's later recording of this piece.) The Adagio is a startling mixture of passion and composure, while Gould makes full use of his unrivaled genius for pianis-tic counterpoint in the exhilarating final Rondo.
All in all, this is a revelatory disc, exploring aspects of Brahms's vast, symphonic conception that had been long neglected. Moreover, it is an important souvenir of two great musicians - musicians who could collaborate on an interpretation that was significant, original and moving, even when in substantial disagreement about just what that interpretation should be.