Gilels caught in recordings in his towering early
maturity during the mid-1950s in Paris and New York.
Compare the velvety slightly distanced and gauzy
sound achieved for Gilels Rachmaninov 3 in Paris in 1955
with the gripping sharp etching of Milhaudís Saudades in
New York in 1956. Of course the Rachmaninov benefits from a
little glycerine focus but here it is too much of a good thing.
Gilels is a joy to hear in full spate and his golden gentleness
offers its own aureate satisfaction. Try the smiling playing
at 4:29 in the first movement and throughout the second movement.
In the finale however there is a glum smear to the sound and
you have to listen hard to get past this. On the other hand
there is a four-square leonine magnificence about the playing
which engaged me quickly. Even so I could not† prefer this to
Martha Argerich recorded in December 1982 by Philips with Chailly,
to Earl Wild and Jascha Horenstein on Chandos or to the venerable
Horowitz in his live BMG recording with Ormandy. Listen again
though and mark details such as Gilelsí incomparable stream
of pearly incandescence at 6:49 onwards in the finale.
The Saint-SaŽns Second Piano Concerto is
a personal favourite which I first came to know through one
of Rubinsteinís recordings. Itís a work of stormy and awkward
contrasts and along the way there are one or two kitsch moments.
It is a vigorously romantic piece and that is exactly how it
is treated by Gilels and Cluytens. The Mendelssohnian faerie
skitter of the allegro scherzando is memorable and is
accelerated for all itís worth. Gilels is here placed well forward
in the soundscape. Without being as stunning as say the contemporaneous
mono recording of Oistrakh and Matacic in Prokofievís Violin
Concerto 1 the recording is good. Certainly it is better than
the cloud occluded affair that is the fate of the Rachmaninov.
The brightest sound is that accorded to Gilelsí
colourful and gauntly majestic accounts of the two Shostakovich
Preludes and Fugues.
The superb notes are by Bryce Morrison.
Not the best of the GROC series. Gilels enthusiasts
will have to have this but it is unlikely to have a wider constituency
among collectors generally.