Passing the true Shostakovich sound from father to son
The search for authenticity in performance - seeking the sound the composer intended - has covered a vast range of music, from medieval to contemporary.
Of late, the focus of this search has been on the baroque, as well as on Mozart, with asides to Beethoven and Schubert. It is an interesting topic, one that is increasing in intensity and controversy as the years go by.
There is a more immediate form of authenticity-searching that might actually slip by almost unnoticed by today's chroniclers of things musical, so widespread is the look backward. I talk not so much about authenticity as found in the very newest in music (where the composer himself can assure it - say Steve Reich or John Harbison) but as found one generation back.
My specific subject is Maxim Shostakovich, son of the late great Russian composer. But I want to sidestep for a moment. Composers have not always the best interpreters of their works because they often do not understand the mechanics of directing a symphony orchestra. Leonard Bernstein is the obvious exception; Benjamin Britten knew what he wanted and how to get it; Igor Stravinsky's recordings are fascinating, not necessarily ideal.
Shostakovich pere was not a conductor. He was a public pianist only for a while. His son was first a pianist (he is the dedicatee of the Second Piano Concerto) before he trained as a conductor. And, naturally, he learned his father's music at his father's elbow.
When Maxim's recording of his father's celebrated Fifth Symphony was issued in the West, with the controversially slow closing pages, it was assumed (rightfully so) that the composer had changed his ideas on how that music should be performed, and the son was communicating that change to the world. (The recording, by the way, now on Quintessence 7202, is a superb performance and the only Shostakovich symphony recording by his son currently available in the US).
Maxim and his son Dimitri stunned the music world by defecting to the West last year. They have settled in Connecticut: Maxim is establishing himself as the prime interpreter of his father's work, while his son primes himself for a career as a solo pianist. Maxim has just made his New York Philharmonic debut in a program that included his father's Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 77 (originally published as Op. 99), and the Eighth Symphony (Op. 65).
Shostakovich scores are subject to the worst sort of excesses by overwrought conductors out to crack the walls with fortissimos, out to wring every last drop of bathos from the music, in general ''proving'' that everything cynics have been saying about this music for years is true.
Maxim Shostakovich uses restraint most of the time. Nonetheless, in the performance of the Eighth, he revealed an unaccustomedly broad palette of emotions inherent in the music - easily sustaining the tricky balance between despair and irony, and other contrasting feelings, all invariably underpinned with profound humanity.
Again in the violin concerto, Mr. Shostakovich was restrained in his accompaniment. His beat is basically clear, though it does get muddy in the climaxes, and the orchestra had a few problems trying to figure out what he really wanted in the fifth movement of the symphony.
We now have a chance to hear Shostakovich as the composer must have envisioned it. Orchestras around the world should start Shostakovich cycles with Maxim conducting, as should some recording company - with the finest orchestra at its disposal. Such an opportunity is rare and should not be allowed to slip by without permanent record. Glenn Gould's recordings
Glenn Gould recorded over 60 disks for Columbia (now CBS Masterworks). At his recent passing, three records - of music by Brahms, Strauss, and Beethoven - remained unreleased. But many of his most interesting titles are not available in the US.
I came late to the Gould ''camp.'' But one hearing of his classic 1955 recording of the Bach ''Goldberg Variations'' (Columbia M - 31820E) is all it took. He was alive to subtlety, to nuance. He brought this exceptional keyboard masterwork to life in riveting fashion. He made the piano sound like a new instrument. Even his occasional humming, kicking of the pedals, and other extraneous noises were acceptable. One of the century's most gifted eccentrics clearly possessed the genius to make us overlook his peculiarities and make his views work as valid, refreshing artistic statements.
So with the imminent release of the new version of the ''Goldbergs,'' I started going through what Gould disks I had. Clearly the Bach is incomparable. Gould's way is neither preclusive of the old interpreters' views nor the latest in authentic ideals. The scrutiny he has subjected these pieces to is uncanny - they're a goodly part of the keyboard opus - and so is the ability to sort out and clarify the voices so that each stands alone yet remains a part of the fabric.
But Gould did not spend all his time with Bach. Beethoven is represented list with a goodly share of the sonatas, the Op. 33 and Op. 126 Bagatelles, and the five piano concertos. The concertos are in a fascinating box set on Columbia's budget Odyssey label - set Y4 - 34640. Here he is occasionally more obviously unorthodox, but the results are the same - fresh, often revelatory views of works all but buried in traditions good and bad - traditions Gould knew because he adored Schnabel's legendary recordings. One cannot help but feel Schnabel would have agreed with Gould in spirit.
Later, after Mr. Gould had withdrawn from public playing, he began to experiment with acoustics of recordings. On a lovely record of Sibelius piano music (out of print, one hopes only temporarily) he and producer Andrew Kazdin changed the acoustic from moment to moment to suit the mood the music is expressing.
It was but a facet of Mr. Gould's constant fascination with recordings as an art form unto itself. He is probably the first recorded artist to have felt that a performance on LP had to have its own validity and integrity. He was not interested in merely capturing a performance in a studio but in evolving a fresh rethinking of the music from the perspective only a microphone could give.
Twenty-six years separate the new ''Goldberg Variations'' (CBS IM - 37779 - digital) from the old. The sound is stunning, and that singing is more audible than ever. The performance is utterly different. Gould had become convinced that the work was not just a theme and variations, but an integral whole with a unity of meter. The recording is just as compelling as his '55 account and is destined to become just as much a classic. Anyone interested in the art of pianism, the art of interpretation, and the art of Glenn Gould will not wish to be without it.