Gulda plays Bach
This CD is living evidence of Martha Argerich’s claim, “I never knew anyone so gifted or extraordinary as Friedrich Gulda”. Lovingly compiled from a mix of live and studio recordings by his son Paul, all these performances tell us that Gulda’s legendary eccentricity was countered by an acutely economic and disciplined style and uncompromising musical integrity. For Gulda, Bach was “a pillar of moral support” (for his “Bach for the people” recital, those wearing jeans were given priority!). But for Paul Gulda, his father’s life was full of foibles and oddities rather than airs and graces, and his lifelong attempt to reconcile the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in music were shown in his special reverence for Mozart and Beethoven. But here, his Bach is of a crystalline clarity combined with an innate musicality that erases all possible dryness or pedantry. The Italian Concerto’s opening Allegro is both sturdy and magnificently assured, the central Andante magically fine-spun while the final Presto is a marvel of exuberant virtuosity. Gulda’s way with the English Suites just possibly tells us the source of Argerich’s dazzling Bach (Gulda was a guiding force and mentor to her) and throughout all these performances you are made gloriously aware of Bach as a contemporary, a composer for all time. The Aria de postiglione is springy and piquant while for his final offering, his own Prelude and Fugue, Gulda whisks us to New York’s Birdland, the jazz club where, after playing Beethoven recitals at Carnegie Hall, he would jam away with his esteemed colleages into the small hours. Here, “Dead Eye Fred”, as he was affectionately known, stuns and bemuses his audience with a display of dizzying intricacy and aplomb. Excellently recorded and lavishly illustrated, this special disc is part of “an ocean of music” (Argerich) left by a very special pianist.