Over the past few months or so, we've found that our recorded music listening has consisted mostly of rehearings of Bach's keyboard works performed by various keyboardists, all absolutely first-rate musicians and performers — from Landowska's richly gothic-Romantic and Kirkpatrick's stylistically "pure" readings on harpsichord to widely varied readings on piano such as those by Gould, Richter, Schepkin, Schiff, etc. — and were struck by how all those readings save Gould's seem to share a single element in common: they all deal with the music at its impeccable and complex formal surface, even Landowska's, seemingly never daring to go, or even look, beneath. Gould alone dared that, and when he wasn't being a wiseass (which he on occasion could be, especially when he wasn't overly fond of a piece as was the case with some of the preludes of The Well-Tempered Clavier), produced readings that truly deserve that overworked encomium, transcendent. After absorbing Gould's reading of a Bach keyboard work, all other readings of that work seem lacking in one way or another, or even just plain "wrong" no matter how stylistically note-perfect they may be. In a 2006 S&F post titled, "Revelatory Tidbit", we wrote:
Perhaps the most illuminating nontechnical characterization of Bach's keyboard polyphony — illuminating for performer and listener alike — is that, at bottom, it's an in-progress intellectual and philosophic conversation carried on by intellectual equals. [...] While all first-rate keyboardists recognize that in-progress conversation and acknowledge its existence in their Bach readings, Gould alone among them understands precisely what each speaker is saying, knows exactly what the conversation is about, and understands fully all its manifold implications.Although we would have phrased it differently then, that's been our feeling from our first introduction to Gould's Bach in 1955 via his first commercial recording of the Goldberg Variations, and today still remains our best explanation for the largely imponderable, almost uncanny "rightness" of Gould's readings of the keyboard works of that most profound of all musical geniuses, Johann Sebastian Bach.