We were introduced recently to the work of a now deceased artist whose name was previously unknown to us: pianist Friedrich Gulda who died in 2000. The introduction was by way of a Deutsche Grammophon CD entitled, "Gulda Plays Bach", and for us it was a startling find as Gulda proved to be that rarest of 20th-century pianists: a pianist who uses the piano to perform Bach exactly as that instrument ought to be used, which is to say absent all trace of anachronistic and inappropriate largely Romantic pianistic devices which for more than a century now have defined first-rate, expressive piano playing. (For more detail on what we mean here, see this S&F post starting with the graf that begins, "So, beyond the business of the repeats and the self-invented embellishment, what was it I found so ultimately disappointing about Schepkin's reading [of the Goldberg Variations]?".)
We may be biased on this point, but we can't help but think that Gulda's Bach performance as heard on this CD as it relates to pianistic technique was influenced largely by the Bach readings of Glenn Gould even though their interpretations of the works in question are by no means the same or even similar. To state in the proverbial nutshell the principal common difference between the two would be to say that Gulda's interpretations are pitch-perfect true to both the letter and spirit of the scores, while Gould's go one transcendent order of magnitude beyond, the for the most part almost uncanny "rightness" of his readings so compelling that one is forced ultimately to abandon all ordinary critical criteria and say helplessly (and somewhat lamely) that Gould seems to have had some sort of mystical direct connection to the innermost musical mind of Bach himself, divining there what's impossible for any composer to notate on the cold, hard pages of a score.
That having been said, we cannot recommend too highly this CD of Gulda's Bach performances which includes the English Suites Nos. 2 and 3, the Italian Concerto, the C-minor Toccata (BWV 911), and an early Bach work, the Capriccio "On the departure of a beloved brother" (BWV 992). As an added bonus, there's also included a Prelude and Fugue written by Gulda himself which is modeled on Bach but is strictly a 20th-century work that's quite jazzy from beginning to end; a fun piece that displays a not inconsiderable gift for composing on Gulda's part.