Emil Gilels – Early Recordings Volume 2; 1937-54
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Souvenir de Hapsal Op.2 – Chant sans paroles [2:50]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Preludes Op.23 – No.5 in G minor [3:10]
Six Songs Op.38 – No.3 Daisies
Etudes-Tableaux Op.39 – No.1 in C minor [2:50]
Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Piano Sonata No.3 in G minor Op.22 [16:36]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Piano Sonata No.2 in E minor Op.75 [23:47]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor Op.14 [17:34]
The Love for Three Oranges Op.33ter – March [1:32]
Emil Gilels (piano)
rec. 1937 (Rachmaninoff Prelude), 1940 (Tchaikovsky Souvenir, Rachmaninoff Etudes-Tableaux), 1945 (Rachmaninoff Daisies), 1947 (Prokofiev, Love for three Oranges 1950 (Glazunov), 1951 (Prokofiev Sonata 2) 1954 (Medtner), Moscow
NAXOS 8.112051 [70:47]

Volume two in this series keeps up the good work established by the first. As before, we have a programmatically cogent compilation which therefore has had to range widely over the first seventeen years of Gilels’ recording career. The result is an all-Russian disc that gives us his thoughts on three major sonatas. He certainly played the G minor Medtner sonata and the Glazunov E minor a fair bit in the early 1950s; and performances of the second Prokofiev sonata, studio and live, seem to be confined – as far as I know – to 1951. So the big statements on this disc all seem to represent a particular focus of interest at the time.

Medtner’s sonata is marvellously contoured, very poetic, maybe in its own way comparable to Moiseiwitsch’s playing of the composer’s music. The recording wasn’t good for its time. Glazunov’s E minor sonata is despatched with elegance and lyric distinction but also a great reserve of dynamism as well. His marshalling of the peaks and troughs of the second movement Scherzo is a mini master class in itself though you will be thrilled by the huge dynamic curve he sculpts in the finale.

Prokofiev, some of whose sonatas he appeared to appropriate and ‘own’ is represented by the Second. Gilels brings tremendous clarity to it, whilst simultaneously managing to extract a full panoply of tense lyricism. He conjures up pungent sound worlds with immediate strength, as in the same sonata’s finale – brilliant, crisp and clear.

The morceaux are no less a part of a musician’s arsenal and they are, in the main, heard first in the running order. The Tchaikovsky is lovely, though there’s a bit of ingrained wow on the disc. His Rachmaninoff Prelude is brasher and bigger than his later way with the music, when he took it more cautiously. The result is that finer precision suffers a little in this truly galvanising exercise, but few will mind when the results are so vital.

You will find some of the recordings here are in a big Brilliant box (see review). It’s difficult from Brilliant’s document to be definitive about which exactly are the same. The Prokofiev 2 and Medtner 3 seem to be, whilst I think the Glazunov in the Brilliant set is the live performance that’s circulated, whereas Naxos has the near-contemporaneous studio recording.

Excellently transferred, as one would expect, this is another well curated selection.

Jonathan Woolf

Another well curated selection.