A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
classical music, music videos
Glenn Gould, Lang Lang, Mozart
July 17, 2015
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Cannot compare. Sorry, I refuse to listen to Lang Lang.
Allowing for the fact that a live performance is not usually as perfect technically as a studio recording can be, i would call this little contest a draw. There is plenty to like and enjoy in both interpretations, but they are both rather exaggerated, especially tempo-wise. As a pianist, the very popular but somewhat controversial LL is just as masterful right now as the great but slightly controversial GG was half a century ago, but i would not call either one of them a completely satisfying and convincing Mozartean. As we all know, one’s area of particular excellence was predominantly pre-Mozart, while the other’s biggest strength is definitely post-Mozart.
I would call this contest a draw as well: I can’t decide which one I like least.
I like both pianists as well but agree with MarK that neither of them had a gift for Mozart.
Honestly, I didn’t care much for either one. Lang Lang ‘s rather bombastic, break-neck version is slightly preferable, but only because Gould’s reading sounded so achingly slow and robotic that I actually turned off the clip way before it had finished.
There’s a Van Cliburn recording that strikes a much more pleasing balance than either of these two extremes.
Gould’s robotics over the Lang taffy pull. I like De Larrocha in Mozart and especially in this.
Tough crowd here! For me, taking risks when expressing one’s unique musicality still does count for something.
Call me weird but i even like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7izUG6QStA
Gould strived to be different:
“If there’s any excuse at all for making a record, it’s to do it differently, to approach the work from a totally recreative point of view … to perform this particular work as it has never been heard before. And if one can’t do that, I would say, abandon it, forget about it, move on to something else.” — Glenn Gould
That’s brilliant. Thanks for sharing that, MarK
But if i have to draw a “red line in the sand” somewhere, it would probably be right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3OPXBNiGGA
Every time I start to think American culture is the lowest of the low, something like this comes along. Thanks, MarK, for restoring my faith in America!
My own opinion is that both are pretty bad and definitely ridiculous. Gould is slightly less bad for me, just because his approach is intriguing and somewhat intellectual.
If this rondo is performed as a final movement in the context of the entire sonata, these extreme versions would probably not make much sense. Listening to it as a separate piece, however, i find both “distortions” interesting enough to be worth hearing because they reveal certain possibilities in the music that are not evident in a “normal” reading, and also of course because they are realized so brilliantly by these two extraordinary pianists.
I enjoyed all the versions by these highly talented pianists (including the ones in the later posts by Daniel Barenboim and Yuja Wang).
Lang Lang uses Rondo Alla Turca as a vehicle for virtuoso display in an encore piece.
Glen Gould strives for a tempo that Mozart had in mind, and he gets it just right. How do I know this? The clue is in the title “Turkish March,” and there are several examples of Turks marching on Youtube, for example:
Flip back and forth between Glen Gould and this youtube and you’ll see what I mean.
Unfortunately, the video clip of Alice Ehlers’ celebrated performance of Rondo Alla Turca in the 1939 film Wuthering Heights is no longer available on the internet.
If the comment by Jim Eninger above here is meant seriously, then it is misleading on several counts: 1) none of us knows what Mozart “had in mind”; 2) Glenn Gould’s tempo is considerably slower than those in the marching video; 3) the word “March” is not in Mozart’s title – it is simply Rondo alla Turca with the tempo marked Allegretto (which is approximately in the middle between GG’s Andante and Lang Lang’s Presto); 4) the piece’s “Turkishness” is not literal – it is a highly stylized representation of Turkish musical flavor; 5) GG’s interpretation is highly stylized too, as is LL’s, but realized brilliantly – which is why they are so enjoyable for at least some of us.
Responding to Mark K, I point out that if one goes back to the the first edition of Mozart’s sonatas K330-K332, which is available on the internet, one finds that the title of K331’s third movement is “Alla Turca,” not “Rondo Alla Turca,” and the tempo is marked by the enigmatic “Allgrino,” not “Allegretto.” The video clip above, “March of the Janissaries” begins at t=45, and you can decide for yourself if it reflects the relaxed tempo of Glenn Gould. Finally, in response to Mark K’s remark, “If the comment by Jim Eninger above here is meant seriously,…”, I refer him to Tim Mangan’s recent post ” On Snobbery”
As i pointed out earlier, there is no “march” anywhere in Mozart’s title: Rondo is the movement’s musical form, “Alla Turca” is the composer’s suggestion of its character, All(e)grino (probably an archaic form of Allegretto as it is marked in most recent editions) clearly indicates that the tempo is slightly calmer than Allegro but still livelier than Moderato – in other words, just about as far from Glenn Gould’s feeling of Andante (con pochissimo moto) as it is from Lang Lang’s Quasi Presto. Comparing the speed of the march at 0:45 of the video, as instructed by JE, with that of GG’s recording – this time with the help of a metronome to be absolutely sure – i discovered that the Turks were marching at 102 while GG was playing at 87 (approximately and on average of course) which is a musically huge difference of 15% or even more, depending on how it is calculated. Perhaps more amazingly still, LL’s tempo is much closer to marching Turks than that of GG: he is never faster than 105 but mostly plays around 96! It is for these and other reasons listed in my previous comment that i prefaced it with “if … seriously” – not because of anything connected to anyone’s snobbery (correct me if my understanding of that concept, as shown right there in my comment under Tim’s article from two weeks ago, is erroneous), but (quite the opposite!) mostly due to my usual self-doubt: the statements in JE’s first comment were so obviously untrue in my opinion that i thought it was possible that i might have missed a healthy dose of irony somewhere in there.
Neither Glenn Gould nor Lang Lang played the correct appoggiaturas. We’ve just learnt from the Dutch harpsichordist and organist Léon Berben–who visited Chile to perform at the Early Music International Festival at USACH–that it’s been lately proved that there are appoggiaturas meant by Mozart to be played, but mistakenly omitted/taught by piano teachers since the 19th century.
Here’s a nice and more appropriate interpretation of this piece.
This may be “nice” and it may even be “correct”, but it is also very boring. Knowing everything we know about Mozart, it seems extremely unlikely to me that he would have preferred a boring rendition of his piece to more interesting and exciting ones. By the way, how exactly was it “proved” that these appoggiaturas are more authentic?
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