A mix of previously
released and first-timers constitutes
the latest book size contribution from
The Beethoven Concerto
with Dorati conducting the RIAS orchestra
is a valuable addition to the Gieseking
discography. The violins, as recorded
at any rate, have a sheeny glare to
their collective tone but Dorati accompanies
with lean and athletic command. There’s
caprice as well as aristocratic dynamism
in Gieseking’s playing; a nobility and
selfless sounding naturalness of utterance
that I find elevates this performances
above those conducted by Böhm (78
set, 1939). von Karajan (1951) and Galliera,
(LP, 1955) and a live Keilberth from
1953. The finale is buoyant and exciting.
Coupled with the Concerto is the Kreutzer
Sonata with Taschner. Tahra has released
this before on an all-Taschner Beethoven
disc [Tahra 461]. I didn’t like it there
and I haven’t much changed my opinion.
The sickly second movement vibrato and
italicisation is Taschner’s responsibility
but Gieseking is too precious here as
well. The very fast finale is a gross
misjudgement. The sound is very listenable
but the performance disappoints from
His Scriabin will be
a novelty to most – as it was to me.
He’s more circumspect and withdrawn
than most Russian contemporaries; less
febrile than Richter and Horowitz, less
aristocratic than Neuhaus, more lateral
and dry than a famously incendiary exponent
of the composer, Sofronitsky. Still,
that’s an accumulation of qualities
Gieseking didn’t bring to bear. What
he did bring was a certain dryly pedalled
and garrulously low intensity approach.
Phrases can run into each other rather
formlessly [No.2] or become inert [No.4].
He strikes a romantic cut but by the
highest standards he’s too literal and
can’t approach Sofronitsky’s rapidity
of accents or sense and depth of characterisation.
The all-Schumann disc
brings some digital deficiencies but
also a great deal of pleasure. The Fantasie
has its share of some dropped notes
and wayward chording but is otherwise
notable for great nobility and humanity.
The companion work on this disc is the
Concerto with Kurt Schröder. The
orchestra is rather ragged in places
but Gieseking is unruffled, metrically
flexible and leonine. There’s real playfulness
and wit in the central movement and
clarity even in the more strenuous and
demanding pages of the finale.
The other concerto
performance is the Brahms D minor. The
sound here is somewhat congested, though
not dramatically so. The horn section
has its dodgy moments and the wind tuning
deteriorates somewhat but Rosbaud holds
things together. There’s a good basic
tempo in the first movement, nobly linear
phrasing from the soloist in the second
and a gruff command in the finale. It
gets better as it goes.
Gieseking may well
have been closely associated with some
of these works to a greater or lesser
extent but to the record buying public
at large it was Debussy and Ravel that
marked him out as a specialist. The
disc devoted to these composers may
not materially alter our rather marmoreal
view of him in this music – his landmark
recordings seemingly been seen as set
in aspic. One or two of these performances
show that that was not the case, even
when these live dates were actually
very near the time of his commercial
recordings. As an example I’d cite Alborada
del gracioso from Miroirs.
The 1954 commercial London recording
sounds distinctly supine in comparison,
far more languid and cautiously reverential
than this far more active and jostly,
accent-sharpening performance. It provides
material evidence that Gieseking’s performances
changed with circumstance, as all musicians’s
performances do. This particular piece
can be contrasted even further against
the pre-War 78 on Columbia and the Music
and Arts issue of a 1947 performance.
I’ve commented before
on the excellence of Tahra’s book shaped
series, which allows them the luxury
of discographies and full colour reproductions.
This one has both; a complete Gieseking
discography by Michael Gray and René
Quonten and reproductions of LP sleeves.
The former is in chronological order
and indexed by composer, which
I find highly effective.
Gieseking is heard
here as soloist, sonata colleague and
concerto titan, from Beethoven
to Ravel as Tahra puts it. Sound
quality varies but is never less than
good and the four discs make formidable
claims on the collector’s wallet, as
does the important discography.