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Walter Gieseking
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.9 Op.47 Kreutzer (1802-03) [31.24] +
Piano Concerto No.4 Op.57 (1806) [30.55] *
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Fantasie in C (1836-38) [29.04]
Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54 [29.18] #
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.15 (1854-1858) [45.10]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Preludes Op.11 (1888-1896) [27.03]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Suite bergamasque (1890 revised 1905) [15.34]
Valse romantique [3.01]
Danse (tarantella styrienne) [4.35]
Pagodes [4.03]
Soiree dans Grenades [4.22]
Images -
Reflets dans l’eau [4.41]
Preludes – Book I 10.10]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Miroirs [22.47]
Walter Gieseking (piano)
Gerhard Taschner (violin) +
RIAS/Antal Dorati *
Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Schröder #
Recorded 1949-53
TAHRA TAH 409/412 [4 CDs 62.38 + 58.59 + 73.27 + 71.42]


A mix of previously released and first-timers constitutes the latest book size contribution from Tahra.

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 every angle.

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 He’s more circumspect and withdrawn than most Russian contemporaries; less febrile than Richter and Horowitz, less aristocratic than Neuhaus, more lateral and dry than a famously incendiary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.

Jonathan Woolf


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