As Farhan Malik in
his booklet notes points out, Gieseking
was one of the first pianists to record
Beethoven’s First Concerto, predated
only by Kempff (1925) and Schnabel (1932).
Gieseking’s first essay dated from April
1937 and was with the Berlin State Opera
House Orchestra under Hans Rosbaud.
The present Music & Arts release
features his second traversal of the
Listeners may be taken
aback by the level of the opening. Kubelík
extracts a true pianissimo from his
orchestra, which proceeds to give a
dynamic account of the orchestral exposition;
lithe yet full of Beethovenian intent.
Contrasts are well-drawn, the lyrical
theme nevertheless retaining its rhythmic
is the real surprise. Known more for
his Debussy and Ravel, his Beethoven
reveals a pianist of immense finger-strength
which is needed in spades in this piece.
He shows full awareness aware of the
subtleties of Beethoven’s voicing. The
interaction between piano and orchestra
is expertly judged. There is a real
chamber-music quality to many of the
exchanges. Gieseking plays the second,
and shortest, of the composer’s own
cadenzas for the first movement with
the lightest of touches, a fair amount
of wit, some Sturm und Drang,
and with complete mastery.
If the Largo may be
felt to be on the brisk side, Gieseking
brings to it a superb sense of cantabile;
his clarinet accomplice in this movement
tries, and nearly succeeds in, matching
Gieseking’s subtlety. The finale is
gentle and sedate. There are many more
dynamic than this. Kubelík, indeed,
seems intent on injecting some drama
around the 6’50-7’00 mark, pointedly
underlining the timpani roll. A thought-provoking
reading with many moments of inspiration.
The ‘Emperor’ is, according
to Music & Arts, the only complete
recording of a classical work in stereo
surviving from World War II. This performance
has previously been available on Music
& Arts 637 and 815. Previous to
the present recording, Gieseking recorded
the work in 1934 with the VPO under
Bruno Walter, a version only predated
by Lamond in 1922, Backhaus in 1927
and Schnabel in 1932. Later, Gieseking
was to record the ‘Emperor’ with Karajan
(1951) and Galliera (1955). There remains
a live New York account with Cantelli
at the helm from 1956.
The orchestra at the
outset reveals some distortion/edge
to the sound, yet within itself it is
resplendent. Gieseking’s initial flourishes
are superb, leading to an interpretation
that is supremely thought-through. He
refuses the temptation to slow down
around 5’49 (so many pianists do!),
preferring to let his long-range thought
carry him through. And it works. By
the end, one is aware of having been
on a long journey, a journey that requires
and gets the calm stasis of the sow
movement. Gieseking at times lets notes
drop like pearls, and throughout plays
with the utmost innigkeit.
All the more of a shame
that the finale is on the dour side.
It strikes me that it is deliberately
undynamic, but it also strikes me that
this is contra the music’s inner nature.
Never exultant, this finale leaves an
impression one would never have guessed
from the first two movements.
Nevertheless the disc
demands a hearing, and there is much