Saturday, 26 November 2016

Gulda's Beethoven Cycle

Gulda does it again!, Review of Friedrich Gulda's recording of Beethoven's piano sonatas.

Friedrich Gulda's recording of the so-called Old Testament of classical keyboard in the shape of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier almost instantly became my definitive interpretation of the preludes and fugues contained therein, short of recording them all myself. 

Having never until now found a satisfactory Beethoven piano cycle I naturally looked to Gulda's recording, despite it not being available for digital download, once I was made aware of its existence - which was no mean feat. 

To be succinct I will say that just as Gulda mesmerised me with his Old Testament rendering so his performance of the New Testament in the shape of Beethoven's piano sonatas is now my go-to favourite. 

I have explored interpretations of these sonatas for many years, owning the cycles by Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff (mono and stereo), Maurizio Pollini, Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel (second cycle) as well as odd sonatas played by Glenn Gould and Rudolf Serkin.

None of the above was I truly happy with for the reason that many of the lesser known sonatas made me feel bored and I was often in disagreement with the way the greater sonatas were played. 

Moreover, the quality over the entire cycle either wavered (Pollini and Goode) or failed to captivate (Brendel and Kempff) and listening to the whole corpus was, in the case of these aforementioned interpreters, more of a chore than a pleasure (the sound quality of the Schnabel is too poor for me to have explored his take in any depth). 

Not anymore. Gulda's fiery, immediate, un-belaboured, non-deferential, un-romantic, quick-witted approach to these piano monuments has made them all a pleasure to listen to, almost without exception, and his performance of the named sonatas is also much to my liking, e.g. the first movement of the Waldstein. 

Gulda was called a 'terrorist pianist' for a reason in so far as he was keyboard maverick with little time for the ostentation and preciousness (not to say pretentiousness) of the classical music world, openly preferring jazz in some cases and having the decency to also compose which is not the case of many pianists schooled in the classical tradition. 

In my opinion these elements of his pianistic temperament are perfect for Beethoven, a keen improviser himself with little time for common public perception, and, unlike the ponderous Kempff or the uneven Goode, Gulda makes these works exciting and arguably as fresh as when they were first conceived - quite an achievement given how familiar I am with all of them. 

Now I am aware that this is a matter of taste as I doubt Gulda will be to everyone's liking but it is a joy in my case to finally find a pianist who corresponds largely with my musical sensibility and has managed to deliver the goods in the case of giants Bach and Beethoven (his Mozart is certainly not one I'm very fond of, however). 

I have not taken the trouble to listen to the concertos included in this box set as they were not the reason I purchased it but rest assured that the piano solo works covering the first nine discs are brilliantly done justice, if of a vigorous and un-reverential kind. 

The Long Road to Mental Health

While pharmaceutical substances are erroneously believed to be a quick fix for poor mental health, treating as they claim to do symptoms rather than causes, there is only one path to great mental health which is coming to terms with yourself (including what you don't like about yourself and negative personal history) and the world as it is

My philosophy of always choosing love over fear essentially means being aware and perhaps having experienced the polarity of fear which is behind a great many mental health difficulties - fear amounting to stress in the mind-body complex, blood flowing away from higher brain functions and the torso-stomach to the extremities (fight or flight mode) - but wilfully choosing consciousness expansion (the force of love) in full awareness of the world's darkest sides. 
"To look into the sickness of the world and one's fellow human beings is a terrible undertaking, but those who do will become well."
It is truth and the freedom that comes with truth, that which is, Heidegger having defined freedom as being able to 'let beings be', that ensures the overcoming of neurosis.
"You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
If you manage to make peace with yourself and others, i.e. let yourself and others be as well as act as you think and feel, no longer being in a state of internal division, you will allow yourself to be relaxed, in touch with the whole whilst being engaged in the now, and, as I've said before, if neurosis is the enemy, relaxation is the remedy