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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [38:18]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 (1868) [22:35]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Preludes and Fugues (24) for piano, Op. 87 1950-1951: No. 5 in D major [3:22]; No. 24 in D minor [11:08]
Emil Gilels (piano)
Orchestre de la Sociťtť du Conservatoire Paris/Andrť Cluytens
rec. Thť‚tre des Champs Elysťes, 13 June 1955 (Rachmaninov); 11 March 1954 (Saint-SaŽns); New York, 19-20 October 1955 (Shostakovich). mono. ADD
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3 45819 2 [75:40]

 

Gilels caught in recordings in his towering early maturity during the mid-1950s in Paris and New York.

Compare the velvety slightly distanced and gauzy sound achieved for Gilels Rachmaninov 3 in Paris in 1955 with the gripping sharp etching of Milhaudís Saudades in New York in 1956. Of course the Rachmaninov benefits from a little glycerine focus but here it is too much of a good thing. Gilels is a joy to hear in full spate and his golden gentleness offers its own aureate satisfaction. Try the smiling playing at 4:29 in the first movement and throughout the second movement. In the finale however there is a glum smear to the sound and you have to listen hard to get past this. On the other hand there is a four-square leonine magnificence about the playing which engaged me quickly. Even so I could not† prefer this to Martha Argerich recorded in December 1982 by Philips with Chailly, to Earl Wild and Jascha Horenstein on Chandos or to the venerable Horowitz in his live BMG recording with Ormandy. Listen again though and mark details such as Gilelsí incomparable stream of pearly incandescence at 6:49 onwards in the finale. 

The Saint-SaŽns Second Piano Concerto is a personal favourite which I first came to know through one of Rubinsteinís recordings. Itís a work of stormy and awkward contrasts and along the way there are one or two kitsch moments. It is a vigorously romantic piece and that is exactly how it is treated by Gilels and Cluytens. The Mendelssohnian faerie skitter of the allegro scherzando is memorable and is accelerated for all itís worth. Gilels is here placed well forward in the soundscape. Without being as stunning as say the contemporaneous mono recording of Oistrakh and Matacic in Prokofievís Violin Concerto 1 the recording is good. Certainly it is better than the cloud occluded affair that is the fate of the Rachmaninov.

The brightest sound is that accorded to Gilelsí colourful and gauntly majestic accounts of the two Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues. 

The superb notes are by Bryce Morrison. 

Not the best of the GROC series. Gilels enthusiasts will have to have this but it is unlikely to have a wider constituency among collectors generally. 

Rob Barnett 

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