material, much of it from ex-Melodiya 78s, continues to pour
out. Brilliant’s boxes offer good value and companies such
as Doremi usefully augment standard issues from larger concerns.
Now we have the cut-price blandishments – no notes, no attribution,
no nothing – of Andromeda. All of this material has been
out before; the first disc of the three has already appeared,
note for note, on Doremi’s Gilels Legacy Volume 1. The Brahms
Quartet with members of the Beethoven Quartet has appeared
on volume four of the same series and the 1951 Florence recital
is on volume five. I make no other comment except to note
that those who are following Doremi’s series should view
this three CD box set with a certain amount of froideur.
The performances however
are pretty much all up to the Gilels gold standard, even
if other, later performances may be superior, in terms either
of recording quality of drama. That said, the Beethoven C
minor with the accompanist par excellence Kondrashin is,
but for the boxy 1940s Melodiya sound, a real winner. Less
well remembered than later traversals – Szell I suppose most
prominently – this features flexibly imaginative conducting,
Gilels’ animating left hand and a commanding sweep amongst
other virtues. The first movement cadenza is superlative
and the slow movement is fluid and yet vitally expressive.
The finale is buoyant and graced with imaginative rhythmic
incident – altogether a fine performance. The Bach is an
unusual feature of Gilels’s discography; he did play Bach,
though not as much as one would have wished and he wasn’t
associated with the repertoire in that way that Feinberg
was. Still, the Brandenburg No.5 with flautist Kharkovsky
from 1948 is, despite muddied textures - not Kondrashin’s
fault - full of undeniable pianistic authority. The Largo
is genuinely expressive, in the finest Russian Bach tradition,
and this is a particularly impressive document that those
who are familiar with the recordings of the late 1950s and
onwards may not know.
The 1948 Schumann sonata
is not the same as the later one in the Brilliant box but
it demonstrates once more how attuned Gilels was to the structural
ramifications of Schumann’s sonatas. He unveils its complex
mechanics with rare sagacity, the Aria unfolding with compelling
eloquence and feeling. Every tempo he takes sounds right
and his tonal nuances are, as ever, of the highest point
of perception. Coupled with it is a collaborative effort
with members of the august Beethoven Quartet, their first
recording together; they were to re-record it in 1959. Additionally
Gilels was taped with the Amadeus in 1970. Back in the late
1940s we find Gilels and the Beethoven were not as pointed
or as assertive as the almost contemporaneous Budapest/Balsam
performance given live in the Library of Congress. Almost
all the eight players were Russian – only Balsam wasn’t – but
the approaches are very different, with Gilels and the Beethoven
talking a more emollient, mellower approach to dynamics and
to attacks. The hymnal slow movement is more reserved in
Moscow than the sonorous projection in Washington.
The final disc is a live
one and in rather shallow sound. Gilels’ mahogany tone burnishes
the Mozart sonata with an especially forthcoming slow movement.
The Appassionata is best known from his 1973 DG recording
but there are other performances naturally, a number live.
His playing is vibrant, dramatic - a few dropped notes acknowledged
- and in many places, simply torrential. The outer two movements
are electrifying in their immediacy whilst the Andante is
commensurately intense. Of the Prokofiev sonata one should
note the formal mastery Gilels brings to bear – his incision
in the scherzo no less than the sense of space generated
in the slow movement.
The playing throughout
is sovereign but given concerns about provenance you will
need to view this set with some caution.