has been issuing a number of high-interest DVDs recently
(see review list
). A whole sequence of Van Cliburn issues has
been particularly notable.
Gilels Tchaikovsky First here is in old, grainy black and
white, with hints of white-out, an orchestra that auto-recesses
over a particular dynamic level, or distorts (or both).
The television cameras look like coffins for pets. We can
see a young-looking Gilels, though, the corners of the
screen faded like an old photograph. Over and above all
of this is the fact that this is an invaluable document.
Gilels is on top form, showing no trace of fear in the
face of Tchaikovsky’s onslaught and providing moments of
heightened delicacy. Double-octaves are delivered with
machine-gun efficiency and yet never unmusically. Gilels’ playing
seems innately Tchaikovskian.
The slow movement is rather hampered by the initial
pizzicati being all but inaudible so the close-up of Verbitsky
is all but useless prior to the entrance of the solo flute.
Gilels’ first entrance honours Tchaikovsky’s direction
of “Andantine semplice” perfectly in his delivery of line.
There is a glowing cello solo that Gilels accompanies superbly.
Distortion mars the opening of the finale – a shame, as
this is high-voltage stuff. Gilels’ articulation is jaw-droppingly
good, as is his projection of the brief moments of counterpoint.
The final moments include some fine pianism.
Camera-work attempts some nice moves: a slow - but not
particularly steady - pan across the firsts lands on Gilels
just as he makes an entrance, for example. Be aware that
if watched straight through, the DVD goes directly into
Gilels walking on stage ten years later for the Schumann.
There’s virtually no gap.
There are around 16 currently available Tchaikovsky
Firsts from Gilels, with conductors of the calibre of Kondrashin,
Mravinsky, Svetlanov, Gauk, Reiner, Cluytens
The Schumann is in colour, the picture slightly blurred.
The fact that the first orchestral chord is not together
gets things off to a shaky start - an errant timpanist
is most obviously to blame here. Gilels, however, is magnificently
chameleon-like, chamber music-intimate one moment, the
concert hall virtuoso a split second later. There are some
magnificent woodwind contributions. Visually, it is a pity
there are huge microphone stands everywhere as they can
inter-cut the screen. An example is when we see the two
flutes; indeed, there is one right next to Gilels which,
from one angle, looks like there is a bar running parallel
to the bottom of the keyboard. The first movement cadenza
is rock-solid, and both Gilels and Verbitsky capture the
flighty nature of the coda perfectly. Interesting how far
Gilels’ hands fly off the keyboard at each of the final
The central movement is remarkably swift, and emerges
as almost improvised. The wind solos are hardly audible,
though, and for extended periods the camera sticks to a
shot of Verbitsky (foreground) and Gilels (background,
screen left). Many will surely feel the tempo for the finale
is too slow. It is more a gentle Allegretto
best) rather than an Allegro vivace
, but it fits
perfectly with Gilels’ view. Gilels’ fingerwork reveals
his Russianness. Fingers of iron mean absolute equality,
and there is a multitude of exquisite moments from the
keyboard. Gilels’ tone can best be described as “glassy” and
seems perfect in context. Only at the very end of the concerto,
with some very staccato string chords, does the dryness
of the recording really seem problematic.
Beginnings aside, Verbitsky is a sensitive interpreter.
There are only two recordings of Gilels in the Schumann
Concerto, this one and an LSO/Böhm from Salzburg in 1975
that has been available on Andante 4030.
The enthusiastic audience response demands an encore,
and Gilels obliges: a Gilels favourite, the Arabesque in
C, Op. 18 - there are at least three Gilels accounts of
this available. The playing is stunning, taking the already
excellent standard we heard in the Concerto up a notch.
Contrasts are exquisite.
Considerations of sound and picture quality stop this
being a first recommendation in the Tchaikovsky, but followers
of Gilels should not hesitate.