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Brilliant Classics

Emil Gilels
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major Op. 15 (1797)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op. 19 (1793 rev. 1794-95)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 (? 1800)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58 (1805-06)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major Op. 73 Emperor (1809)
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major Op. 10/3 (1797-98)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op13 Pathétique (1798)
Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major Op. 26 (1800-01)
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 Moonlight (1801)
Piano Sonata No. 16 in G Op. 31/1 (1802)
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor Op. 57 Appassionata (1804)
Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major Op. 79 (1809)
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major Op. 81a Les Adieux (1809-10)
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90 (1814)
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major Op. 106 Hammerklavier (1818)
Emil Gilels (piano)
State Symphony orchestra of the USSR/Kurt Masur
Live recordings made between 1961 and 1984
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92132 [6 CDs: 376.37]


A six CD set of unstated provenance, recorded between the years 1961 and 1984. Letís try to get some bearings. The Concerto performances probably derive from the 1976 cycle with Masur, the First and Second Concertos of which were previously (but are no longer) available on Revelation RV 10040. Iím not aware that Revelation released the remainder Ė but the Gilels discography is not unlike the Richter in that respect; things keep cropping up. The First and Second are definitively stated to be 19th December 1976 on the back of Brilliantís jewel case. As for the remainder, since I donít have access to the Revelation, I have to pose a series of rhetorical questions and interested, and better-informed, collectors should make their judgements accordingly. Is the D major Op. 10/3 Sonata the same one as released on Revelation RV 10029 and there dated as 20 and 21st October 1980? If, as seems likely it is, then the companion sonatas are here as well, Opp. 79, 81a and 90. The Pathétique is dated by Brilliant as December 1968, the Moonlight, December 1970 and the Appassionata, January 1961. I donít believe theyíve been released by Revelation. Op. 26 is dated 1976, the year after a performance released by Doremi (which was the same year as his commercial DG recording of it). Thereís also a Music and Arts performance from 1977. Confused? Tangled, certainly. Op. 31/1 replicates Op. 26 as far as Doremi is concerned. As for the Hammerklavier he recorded it for DG in 1982 but this one dates from 1984 Ė the same year he re-recorded it for BMG/Melodiya.

Obviously thereís a deal of discographical paperwork yet to be done to untangle the exact dates and locations of these titanic performances. In the absence of definitive answers, what of the performances? I donít think one would put the Masur cycle on the same pedestal as one places his individual recordings elsewhere but they are powerfully impressive nevertheless. The first two concertos, fine as they are, will not efface the 1957 Vandernoot recordings on EMI (for all that the conductor wasnít a "name" it would have been intriguing to have had a cycle from him with Gilels). The Third has a rather aggressive Gilels cadenza and some over-smooth accents from Masur (the dropped notes from the pianist are a corollary of his commitment and convinced advocacy). The recording tends to highlight the booming timpani as well and all in all this clearly wonít stand above Cluytens and Szell Ė the commercial EMI not the two other live recordings (though other survivals include Kondrashin, Gauk, Sanderling Ė twice - and Karajan). Gilels was a notable exponent of the Fourth, one of the greatest of his generation. With Masur he is lucid, powerful, noble and animated. With Sanderling and Ludwig he was even more. As for the Fifth we have some finely flexible phrasing from Masur and a grave slow movement though the "timing" to the finale isnít as well executed as Kempff/Leitner, but then whose is? His best performances of it remain those with Ludwig and Sanderling.

The Sonatas are frequently magnetic and heroic. Like Solomon he never lived to complete the cycle but there are numerous highlights from the live performances preserved here. The sound, by the way, varies according to age and location; the audiences are generally quiet Ė a few coughs aside Ė but sometimes the raw recordings impart an edge and an aggression that would have been better cushioned in a more sympathetic acoustic. The Pathétique has storming playing in the Allegro di molto section as Gilels catches the torrent of the music. By contrast his slow movement is plainly and simply phrased, with the left hand nagging away; aloof but concentrated. The finale has patrician drive. The Moonlight opens quite but not remarkably slowly (not the tempo of Kempff or Solomon) whilst he takes the second movement as a real Allegretto. The finale is driving and intensely exciting albeit the recording emphasises the power of Gilelsís chording to an uncomfortable degree. The Appassionata from 1961 has blazing intensity and tension; the highlights are the chordal weight in the Andante con moto and the sense of anchored profundity here and elsewhere. At times there are moments of pre-echo on the tape. What one finds in his Hammerklavier is intense integrity and imperious control. There is grandeur and power but also clarity of texture and refinement of detail. His speeds in the outer movements are relatively spacious but the rhythmic grip he exerts is constant and unremitting. Iíd be tempted to call this playing Olympian but for the inappropriateness of the word when confronted by Gilelsí huge and animating humanity.

These are just the thoughts that come to mind listening to his Beethoven. Itís hardly possible to do full justice to the set but to note those moments that seem to me to be the most remarkable from amongst many. The box comes in a slipcase and there are no notes. The price is absurdly cheap whatever the provenance and will provide, however imperfectly in places, some semblance of Gilelsís greatness as a Beethovenian.

Jonathan Woolf



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