Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio…
None of Liszt's ingenuous Beethoven symphony transcriptions had been recorded when Glenn Gould charted virgin territory in 1967 with the Fifth. Not only does Gould take Liszt's prodigious technical demands in stride, he also turns in what may be his best Beethoven playing on record. The pianist brings a kind of rhythmic acuity to the outer movements that makes many orchestral versions seem tame in comparison, even those with faster tempos. Gould's genius for sustaining tension at slow tempos is fully revealed in the second movement, in which each phrase is timed to a T. The first movement of the Pastorale flows more assuredly and accurately than in Gould's CBC Radio performance of the entire transcription. It's a pity Gould abandoned his plans to record the entire cycle.
When the New York Philharmonic fired conductor Artur Rodzinski in 1946, Leopold Stokowski saw an opportunity – he had long desired the post of principal conductor in New York and went to work trying to obtain it. From 1947 to 1950, Stokowski made himself available to New York on an on-call basis, conducting children’s concerts, fill in concerts for other conductors, anything that New York would assign to him, remaining visible until the long process of choosing a music director was finished. Alas, it became clear by early 1950 that Stokowski was not going to be New York’s choice for the position, awarded instead to Dimitri Mitropoulos.
For the casual listener, there are two impediments to enjoying this disc. First, the works are transcriptions of orchestral works for chamber ensembles, and second, both transcriptions are played on a light-toned fortepiano and cat-gutted stringed instruments. But for the dedicated listener who knows and loves Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 4 and who accepts and enjoys period instruments, this disc will be pure enjoyment.