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So What?! Friedrich Gulda - A Portrait

Release Date: 11/13/2007 
Label:  Imports (Dvd)   Catalog #: 1154047  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SO WHAT?! FRIEDRICH GULDA: A PORTRAIT Friedrich Gulda (pn, clvd) DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000993509 (DVD: 165:00)

I wonder if the title of this DVD, “So What?!” should not be replaced with “At Last!” Friedrich Gulda has long fascinated many of us who commentate on the piano world, not least because of his ability to successfuly straddle the classical and the jazz fields. So here, at last (as they say) is a comprehensive introduction to the art of Friedrich Gulda.

“So what?!” is Read more the title of the first offering, the hour-long film by Benedict Mirow and Friedemann Leipold, with Gulda texts narrated by Ulrich Mühe. It begins with a description of Gulda’s first death. To explain: Gulda sent a fax from Zürich airport reporting his own demise. It took only a few hours for it to make the television news (we see a clip of the actual report). Chick Corea appears in a press conference next to Gulda, stating what a privilege it is for him to work with Gulda. There follows a fascinating clip of the two playing together in 1982 on two grand pianos. Listening to the two react off each other (rather than to each other) makes for gripping listening and viewing. Parts are perhaps a little disturbing as well as amusing (the ORF interview with the Gulda anti-persona, Herr Golowin). Amazing footage follows of Gulda practicing the Beethoven op. 111 in a beer garden while hip young people circulate around. Then there is the music festival at Ossiach in 1969, right next to a granitic, almost forceful 1989 piano performance of the Bach Fugue, BWV 849, as Gulda tells us of the mountains he has climbed. He also refers to his experimental concerts, and how people said he had gone mad. “So what?” was his reply. His reply was also the piece Paradise Island , a composed cry for the peaceful merging of differing modes of musical expression, and we hear part of a performance with the Munich PO in 1992.

And so to “Solo Flight,” a film of a recital from 1981. He begins with three preludes and fugues by Bach: BWV 889, BWV 846, and BWV 886. Gulda conjures such concentration that the Gulda-arranged Schubert Lied, Der Wanderer , seems truly logical and fitting in its bleakness. Two Debussy items, both beautifully toned (“Reflets dans l’eau” from Images I and “La Soirée dans Granade” from Estampes ) lead to four pieces by Gulda himself. The nervous pulsating of “Exercise No. 9” from Übenstück is starkly juxtaposed with the prayer-like slightly jazzy chorale of Für Paul . Gulda’s own Prelude and Fugue gives him a chance to do the Bach thing in his own way before he gives what must be one of the only pieces for jazz clavichord, Für Rico. Great fun this clavichordal outing is, too, with vibrato used to telling effect, and a knowing integration of Baroque ornamentation into the jazz harmonic world. There follow three items from TV programs. The fascinating arrangement by Gulda of Sarastro’s aria from Zauberflöte , “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (an object lesson in how to bring out long-line legato inner voices on the piano) comes from “Mozart for the People” (1981), while the 1989 film “Friedrich Gulda Solo” furnishes us with two items. First, some more Bach (the Prelude and Fugue, BWV849), played with crystelline purity by a strangely hatted Gulda who also sported shades on this occasion. Secondly, there is the Gulda arrangement of Föderl and Marischka’s Die Reblaus , late night jazz if ever I have heard it.

The final offering on this wonderful DVD is the 36-minute interview with Joachim Kaiser of 1986. It explores such topics as the late flowering of Chopin in Gulda’s repertoire (1986), although it must be admitted that Kaiser’s question alone regarding this seems to take a good five minutes. Apparently Gulda memorized Brahms Second Concerto in three days. Gulda is cripplingly honest. He himself brings up the subject of critics and how he deals with them. By simply not playing the pieces that stretch him, is the answer. Gulda speaks freely of his admiration for Cortot and of his own identification with the composers he interprets.

Ultimately, this window into this most puzzling of pianists only acts as a sort of question mark itself. We see the different sides of Gulda, but can only gape open-mouthed at his equal success in different fields. As a transcriber and arranger, he is magnificent. He plays jazz with the greats, but he left, too, a stunning cycle of Beethoven sonatas. One hopes this DVD will inspire many to investigate further the playing of this wonderful musician. Recommended.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

Directed by Benedict Mirow and Fridemann Leipold

Picture Format: 4:3
Subtitles: English/French/Spanish/Chinese

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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804-1805; Vienna, Austria 

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