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Emil Gilels Legacy - Volume 5
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in C minor K.457 (1784) [21:17]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata, op.57, in F Minor Appassionata (1805) [20:56]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor Op.14 (1912) [17:03]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1872-1943)
Moment Musical Op. 16 No.5 [3:37]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey (Oriental Fantasy) (1869) [8:18]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Recuerdos de viaje - Malaguena Op.71 No.6 [2:56]
Navarra (1909) [4:30]
Emil Gilels (piano)
rec. live, Florence, 11 June 1951 with the exception of the Albeniz; live, Moscow, March 1957 (Malaguena) and January 1954 (Navarra)
DOREMI DHR-7795 [78:48]


The fifth volume of Doremi’s Gilels Legacy here reaches volume five and a momentous one it is. It enshrines the pianist’s first recital in the West – Doremi capitalises this like a sports event on the cover of its booklet. That’s not unfair in the circumstances as it was given in Florence in June 1951 and this of course was four years before his American debut, which followed in 1955.

Gilels had recorded some Mozart violin sonatas for Melodiya with his highly talented sister Elizaveta and his performance of the C minor sonata rather puts me in mind of those staunchly romantic but nevertheless compelling traversals. The playing is expressive and sometimes inclined to be a little over-robust. This lends greater delicacy and legato-spun beauty to the slow movement which is voiced with great beauty and tonal variety though maybe at the slight expense of some mobility.

 The Appassionata offers a graphic example of Gilels’s intensity in recital. Plenty here, in the first movement in particular, is visceral and full of abrupt theatre. You can even hear some noises from outside the hall, despite the incendiary momentum of the playing which is scintillating in its dynamism. The central slow movement has a noble seriousness but the finale is the thing; here Gilels rides roughshod over the ma non troppo indication brooking no modification of the Allegro. The resultant speed is breathtaking in its precision and incisiveness but breathless in phrasing and rather unsatisfactory as a reading given the context of his performance as a whole. But undeniably exciting.

Prokofiev’s D minor Op.14 sonata is dispatched with a wide patina of colour and emotive responses – it’s an all-embracing and protean performance that meets the sonata head-on. Islamey is subject to virtuoso handling though Gilels here doesn’t elevate speed to a cardinal virtue, thankfully. The Rachmaninoff Moment Musical must have been a warm and effective encore. Then we have the two Albéniz pieces that derive from Moscow recitals given in 1954 and 1957. They are freighted with rhythmic verve and bring the total playing time up to nearly capacity.

There are two small paragraphs about Gilels in the brief booklet; otherwise it’s given over to detailing items in this and other Doremi series. The sound is good for the vintage, the performances charismatic and personal. There’s not necessarily a frisson or history-in-the-making feel about the recital – that would be going too far – but it does offer an uncommonly exciting slice of Gilels’ music-making.

Jonathan Woolf



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