Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op.58 (1805-06) [35:15]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G major Op.44 (1880) [35:11]
Emil Gilels (piano)
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli (Beethoven)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin (Tchaikovsky)
rec. September 1966, Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Beethoven); February 1959, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London (Tchaikovsky)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5032 [71:37]
The world’s broadcast vaults continue to offer their bounty to the Caesar of commercial traffic. Often this results, as here, in multiple duplications from an artist’s studio or indeed live discography. It’s for the market to deal with this increase of possibilities whilst the critic can sit back and enjoy the largesse that comes his way.
And in Gilels’ case, it really is largesse. A performance of Beethoven’s G major Concerto may elicit a wary response, given not only his commendable studio recordings with Ludwig and Szell, but also the existence of live performances with Sanderling, Pradella and Sawallisch amongst others. But his collaboration with Barbirolli, live from the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, brings a subtly different series of responses. There is a just balance between grand intensity and introspective stasis, though it could be suggested that tempi and rubati sometimes incline more to the latter interpretative position. Certainly Barbirolli was not, at this stage of his life, the kind of concerto accompanist who would goad a soloist, or who would drive a tempo. His gifts in this role had long been acknowledged, even as he came to resent the appellation of ‘concerto accompanist’. The slow movement contrasts a sinewy, implacable orchestra against, at first, a barely audible piano, and the music inexorably relinquishes its dialectical grip, unwinding until it reaches a space seemingly ungoverned by time. Such moments of near-immobility recur in the finale to less extreme effect because here the balance of the music is dynamic and engaged. In this performance, Gilels seems to be moving toward the outermost limits of introspection; certainly amongst the most introspective that I have heard from him on disc in this work.
Such considerations don’t really apply in the case of Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto. The orchestra is the LPO, and the conductor an equally great accompanist, though one of a very different stripe, Kirill Kondrashin. The sound here from the BBC’s Maida Vale studios is good and rather less hissy than the Usher Hall concert. Gilels and Kondrashin use Siloti’s edition of the concerto - what would doubtless be called a mash-up today. Notwithstanding this, the command of rhetoric, romance and passion is remarkable and Kondrashin encourages the LPO fully to collaborate, an invocation extended to the two string soloists in the slow movement where the music thins to chamber intimacies and conversational reflection. The finale by contrast is genuinely fiery and exciting. The 1959 Leningrad recording with (again) Kondrashin may be its superior, and there is also the 1972 Svetlanov to consider alongside the studio New Philharmonia/Maazel, but this London reading has great merit.
The disc enshrines two performances of subtlety and power. Whether you need it depends on your priorities with regard to live material and duplication. But I’m very glad, and fortunate, to have heard it.
Jonathan Woolf 

Performances of subtlety and power. I’m very glad, and fortunate, to have heard them.