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Friedrich Gulda plays Beethoven and Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
English Suite in G minor BWV808
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Eroica Variations Op.35
Piano Sonata in B major Op.106 Hammerklavier
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
rec. live, Beethovenfest, Bonn, 1970
Format – NTSC 4:3; Sound – PCM Stereo, Region Code – 0. Black and white
EUROARTS DVD 2058698 [79:00]

Experience Classicsonline

It’s a case of ‘without further ado’ in this black and white concert footage from the Beethovenfest in Bonn in 1970. Gulda is shown, already sitting, ready to begin Bach’s ‘English’ Suite in G minor. There is no admiration-draped walk to the piano, no deep bow to the admiring throng: just a man, his piano, and Bach.
The picture quality is good, not of the sharpest clarity, but very decent. Camera angles are alert, cleverly devised and accurate. Gulda was one of those chuntering pianists, who looks either as if he were talking to himself in a vaguely alarming way, or else is chewing gum, which is alarming enough in a concert pianist, even one as eccentric as Gulda. I rather like his Bach. His playing is rhythmically buoyant, incisive and imaginative. He plays with hardly any pedal. Articulation is varied, dance motifs well brought out. He responds to the puckish left hand repeated notes in the Gavotte with great élan. At the end audience applause is rather cursorily cut off.
The Eroica Variations reveal Gulda the Beethovenian. He plays with plenty of gusto and verve, fully committed. He reserves the most deeply felt moments and the greatest weight of tone for the final slow variation before unleashing the fugal finale with marked power. It’s a performance I preferred to that of the Hammerklavier. This time the audience is on the stage behind him, but you’ll need to turn up the volume as it’s recorded at a lower level than the other pieces. I assume these were three separate recitals. Gulda makes something of a spluttering start and though much that follows is notable, and intense, and also much that is commanding, it’s also undeniably sometimes messy. Fine playing alternates with poorer passages. At the end his bow is cursory indeed and he half sprints away, as if the whole process of performing recitals was something he could well do without. This was, after all, the man who faked his own death to read the obituaries.
The presentation is good, though the booklet doesn’t help us much with exact dates or with Gulda’s problematic approaches to the repertoire. But that, I concede, has been covered exhaustively elsewhere. Even so, this is one mainly for the confirmed Guldian.
Jonathan Woolf