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The Russian Piano Tradition: Emil Gilels & Yakov Zak
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
(1756-1791) – Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)

Overture to The Magic Flute K620 arranged for two pianos [6:08]
Fantasia in F minor for two pianos after K608 [9:28]
Duettino Concertante after Concerto K459 Finale [6:52]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fugue in C minor for two pianos K426 [4:08]
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in E flat K365 [23:40]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Variations for two pianos on a theme of Beethoven Op.35 [17:19]
Emil Gilels, Yakov Zak (pianos)
USSR State Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. Moscow 1949 and 1950
APR 5664 [68:23]



The 1949-50 recordings of Emil Gilels and Yakov Zak provide some of the most vibrant, life affirming and scintillating duo playing on disc. Both men had been born in Odessa and had studied with Neuhaus and it’s fortunate that APR will be covering the entirety of their duo performances in this series; this particular release falls under the APR rubric of The Neuhaus School. And nothing withers or stales the brimming energy of those sessions, even the gloomy and typically unhelpful Russian recording.
 
There are three examples of Mozart-Busoni here. The Overture to The Magic Flute is full of the most brilliant verve, vibrant tone colours, and lock-tight ensemble playing. The organ-like sonorities of the Fantasia in F minor are conveyed in the bass with saturnine, subterranean control – and the finale is dispatched with a dashing, convulsive attack. The Fugue in C minor is Mozart sans Busoni and shows both men’s finger precision. For the Concerto in E flat K365 Gilels and Zak were joined by Kondrashin in a warm hearted, coolly recorded traversal. Two things in particular strike one; the fine, anonymous cadenzas and the liquid, flowing cantabile of the slow movement.  The buffo drama of the finale is another splendid example of this duo’s winning way with the concerto.
 
Splendid though all the foregoing is – and it can barely be denied – the recording of Saint-Saëns’ Variations for two pianos on a theme of Beethoven is, if anything, in a league of its own. Though it only lasts seventeen minutes the variations, in this performance, offers a lexicon of great duo playing, an arsenal of colour and delight. The poco meno mosso for instance is a fulsome example of perfectly judged and executed dynamics and acutely perceptive rubati. The molto allegro (track thirteen) is a fulcrum of precision and wit, the Funeral March richly characterised and sonorously projected.
 
The APR transfers all derive from LPs. They have, understandably, been able to do little with the inherently shallow sound of the original Moscow studio set-up, which was unusually recessed even for the time. But otherwise, with the usual fine Bryan Crimp notes, and general standard of the production, this is another valuable example of The Russian Piano Tradition series preserving some of the most outstanding duo performances on disc.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 



 


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