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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Piano Concerto No 1 in B Minor, Op. 23, (1877)
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)

Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, (1877)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition, orch. Ravel
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 – 1953)

Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor Op. 28, (1877)
Emil Gilels/Orchestre Nationale de la ORTF/André Cluytens.
recorded at the RTF Paris 13th August 1960 (Ravel), at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, 19th June 1958 (Tchaikovsky) and 19th February 1959 (Prokofiev) DVD.
EMI CLASSICS 7243 490124-9 [87 mins]

Although this DVD is programmed as a concert with a solo encore after the concerto, the performances come from different dates and locations. The two French locations were used within a year of each other, and the encore was recorded in England before either of the orchestral items. The film quality is good, albeit in black and white, and the sound is reasonable quality mono. What the items are notable for is that they bring together one of the world’s greatest pianists with an underrated (especially in the UK) conductor, who was absolutely first class as an accompanist, and who specialised in Franco–Russian repertoire.

The concert starts off with the second suite from Daphnis et Chloé, and the conductor’s understanding of Ravel’s complex colours is abundantly clear. His sense of internal balance of the orchestra is unerring, and although his pacing of the central Pantomime section is very steady, he allows his flute soloist enough leeway for the section to be tender and very moving.

The Mussorgsky is accorded a very good performance; not hwever in the upper echelons, mainly because of the restrictions of the sound, and the less than first class playing of the orchestra. The ORTF Orchestra was not the ensemble in 1958 that it has become today, so beware of braying horns in the proper French style and rather raw woodwinds. It is not quite as bad as the contemporary Paris Conservatoire Orchestra but certainly not in the Berlin Philharmonic style.

The main item on this DVD is the first Piano Concerto of Tchaikovsky, played mesmerisingly by Emil Gilels. This was recorded at the time of slight relaxation of travelling restrictions on Soviet artists. In the piano field, Sviatoslav Richter was the more popular artist at the time, and therefore there is less video material of his compatriot in action. We are therefore lucky to be able to watch Gilels play what became almost a party piece (He recorded the concerto in the west with Reiner, Mehta and Maazel) as well as records of it made in the Soviet Union. His style is mesmerising, and this inspires both conductor and orchestra to put their whole body and soul into the accompaniment. I found when watching this item that I was sitting on the edge of my seat so I can confirm the effect of Gilels’ standard of playing. Exhilarating!

We return to a BBC studio for the encore: a superb performance of Prokofiev’s third piano sonata. The composer’s writing is assured and Gilels performance of it is in the same class as that for the Concerto preceding it. The BBC studio recording, done at a celebrity recital in 1959 is up to normal BBC standards and can be recommended without reservation, except for the lack of colour. This is a case however where the monochrome picture becomes a non-issue once the performances get under way. This is the stamp of greatness. As usual with this series, notes are concise, but comprehensive. Session photographs of the artists complement the issue. Recommended.

John Phillips



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