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Approaching a 2-CD, 150-plus-minute collection of Glenn Gould's piano playing that has no Bach is befuddling. Gould, though he was expert at dozens of composers' works, is remembered by many for his shattering 1955 reading of Bach's Goldberg Variations, whose spirit is strewn throughout these pieces by Berg, Byrd, Scarlatti, Prokofiev, and others. Gould's short performance career, which ended in 1964--when he was 32--is captured on this collection's earliest recordings: the Haydn and Mozart works (1958)--his Mozart infuriated aficionados--and Berg's Piano Sonata, op. 1.
Gould always seemed to trot rowdily through the most staid works and then turn quickly paced works into taut, nervy splays of tension. Of greatest interest here are the crisp Byrd pieces, most unusual in their solo-piano dressing, and the Scriabin miniatures, which seem emotionally brittle and creatively about to burst. Gould ties, unties, and reties the Prokofiev securely, tightening its chromatic properties and keeping it dancing all the while. Sure, there's not a stitch of Bach here, but the music just makes its point all the more clearly: Gould's unleashing of notes was genius almost without regard to its subject matter. --Andrew Bartlett