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www.arbiterrecords.com

Walter Gieseking; family archival recordings 1924-1945
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in D D850; Rondo
Piano Sonata in A D664
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Etudes Symphoniques
Kinderszenen
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata in D minor L414
Sonata in Ll23
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Well Tempered Clavier Book 1; Prelude and Fugue in C sharp
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata in D K576
Walter Gieseking (piano)
Recorded 1924-45, from Radio broadcasts, Columbia and Homochord test pressings
ARBITER 122 [76.34]

Derived from broadcast performances and unissued test pressings this uneven but rather fascinating collection is augmented by Arbiter’s characteristically splendid photographs and chronological material. It rounds out a portrait of the younger Gieseking since there’s also a splendidly witty – if down in the dumps – letter from the pianist written to his wife whilst he was stuck in some "hick town" during his 1926 American tour. The preserved material ranges from a 1924 British Homochord test pressing – its companion was recorded the following year – to the Berlin radio broadcasts in 1945 of Schubert and Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques. Much here refutes the – in some quarters – received view of Gieseking as a miniaturist and purveyor of exquisite refinement. Those who have heard his blistering Rachmaninov Concertos recorded live or the torso of the Brahms’ Second Concerto, a wartime survival also on Arbiter, will know exactly what else was in Gieseking’s armoury however imperfect the technique could sometimes become.

There is indeed evidence of some technical stress but much else besides that is of incomparably more importance. His Schubert can be forthright; the Rondo from D850 is not at all prettified and his dynamic variance in the little Sonata in A is impressive and cogent. The finale in particular responds well to his strong attacks and his control of syntax. The preservation of the January 1945 Berlin broadcast was however particularly notable for the Schumann Etudes Symphoniques and I suspect, though this isn’t noted in the documentation, that Gieseking had incorporated the revisions of the second edition. There are some rather peremptory accents here and there but great nobility of utterance as well – in the slow but grave Thema, the control of the Second Variation, the consummate involvement of the Fifth and the driving, risk-taking finale.

The Homochords have the usual ration of surface noise but they’re quite listenable. Arbiter has also retained the level of shellac noise between these two sides, a practice I wish more companies would follow. The ear adjusts quickly to a consistent level of noise and doesn’t have to keep cranking itself up and down to accommodate the violent silence. And the performances are characterful and quite vibrant: good Scarlatti playing for the date. His Bach is perhaps less recommendable and the sole example here from the Second Book of the Well Tempered Clavier, a 1925 Homochord test pressing, is relatively lightweight and superficial. In Mozart, however, things are greatly in his favour. The Sonata in D is a test pressing from about 1940-42 and was a work he was successfully to record in an EMI session in 1953. This earlier attempt shares many of the most attractive features that distinguish the commercial disc – generosity of spirit, beautiful touch, easy flowing elegance and a concomitant depth of expressivity in the Adagio. Kinderszenen is here provisionally dated to c1940 but the sound is very distant and surface noise relatively high. Gieseking is sometimes a little prosaic in his phrasing (Curiose geschichte) but elsewhere appositely affectionate.

Much of the material has survived in relatively good conditions, small instances of distortion on the 1945 tapes and acetate damage aside. The documentation as I said has some excellent pictures, of Gieseking rehearsing with Huberman and a sepia tinted collectors item from the 1920s of the impish Hindemith smiling at a scarily intense Klemperer, Gieseking happily bisecting them with a straight to camera grin.

Jonathan Woolf



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