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alternatively Crotchet

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 (1805/6) [33:10]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73, “Emperor” (1809) [39:16]
Emil Gilels (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 26-27, 30 April, 1 May 1957. ADD

I have to confess that until fairly recently I hadn’t heard very much of Emil Gilels playing Beethoven. His recordings of the Brahms piano concertos are old favourites as are his Mozart 27th and double piano concerto, not forgetting his “Trout” with the Amadeus although I have always preferred Curzon! A year ago I was listening to BBC Radio 3’s “CD Review” - one of the highlights of the week - and they played some of this recording of the Fourth; I was awestruck and went out to purchase the disc. Returning to it again has been an unforgettable experience and for me an ideal performance of this work. The title of this CD is “Great Recordings of the Century” and acknowledgement must be made to Walter Legge and team for a magnificent recording; two months short of being fifty years old! The sound is full and the ear quickly adjusts to the very mild tape hiss.
The recording of the Fourth Piano Concerto has previously been on a Concerto compilation on French EMI, Testament and “Emil Gilels Volume One” in the “Great Pianists of Twentieth Century” - none of which I’ve heard - but it appears that what we have here is a fresh remastering by Ian Jones and excellent it is too. Right from the start we are aware of a very fine orchestra and in Spring 1957 the Philharmonia must have been one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Throughout the record the playing is tremendous and the wind particularly strong; this would have included the unique Dennis Brain. The conducting too is of the highest merit and has made me to try and find out more about Leopold Ludwig who is no more than a name to me. There is no reference to him in the notes although there’s a picture of him with Gilels going through the score. I wonder why he was chosen rather than Klemperer who was conducting Arrau live in these works with the Philharmonia around this time. It was an inspired choice and to me Ludwig’s contribution is immense and he enables Gilels to play magnificently and with such insight throughout. The first movement is unforgettable although I would have been interested to know if the cadenza was his creation. I couldn’t recall hearing them before. I need to listen closely to some other performances! Its very difficult to rate this recording with others. I had intended to compare Curzon and Van Cliburn but felt so wrapped in the performance that it deserves to stand alone!
The “Emperor Concerto” has been a lifelong favourite since I was a small child and there have been many great recordings over the last seventy years with Wilhelm Kempff’s 1962 recording (DG) a reference point. Whether my expectations were too high after the fantastic “fourth” I don’t know but the first movement didn’t quite convince me as a whole. There wasn’t quite the same link between orchestra and soloist as in the previous work. The ethereal slow movement very rarely fails to move me. This is playing of the highest order without any self regarding and with sympathetic and beautiful playing from the Orchestra. The recording picks up their colour so well. The transition from the Adagio into the finale is magical and the finale is a great success too and all in all this is a very fine performance. His playing is by turns delicate and powerful but never “clunky” and makes for an exciting listen! It certainly will repay many rehearings and I’d be interested to hear some of the other ten by Gilels!
In conclusion these are splendid performances deservedly being given the GROC treatment after previously being less highly regarded than many inferior recordings. Now I think I’ll listen to the Fourth again!
David R Dunsmore

see also review by Colin Clarke

EMI Great Recordings of the Century page 




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