Two internationally celebrated pianists, two middle-ranking
small label recording conductors, and one orchestra form the
phalanx of King International’s twofer. The live performances
were taped during March 1953, in the case of Walter Gieseking,
and October 1957 in Emil Gilels’s case.
As usual in such circumstances where the musicians recorded
these pieces, often multiply, in the studio, and where live
broadcast material also exists, it’s difficult to make
recommendations, especially when recording quality is sometimes
variable. Nevertheless one can suggest why certain performances
offer qualities beyond those normally encountered, and in that
way an informed decision can be reached as to whether these
Tokyo performances should be considered.
Gieseking’s Emperor Concerto was taped in Tokyo’s
Metropolitan Hibiya Public Hall on 21 March 1953. It’s
in mono and there is a certain amount of tape hiss audible.
Gieseking starts rather wildly with dropped notes and a degree
of irregularity, but soon settles down aided, one feels, by
some strong downbeats from Kurt Wöss. Thereafter things
greatly improve, the pianist’s rather classicist approach
bringing rewards. He has the gift to spin the slow movement
with great refinement. So artful is his phrasing, so complete
his control that it seems quite slow but in truth is not especially
so. Alas, though, for one horrible tape pitch lurch at 4:53.
It lasts only a second but it’s not a happy moment. Gieseking
responds to the finale with vigour but he gets splashy and rather
wilful again at around 4:25, but at least it’s buoyant
and committed playing. His encore is the charmingly played and
famous E major Scarlatti sonata. This first disc lasts 38 minutes.
Gilels is on equally tempestuous but more commanding form in
his two works, especially the Tchaikovsky. He’s accompanied
by Wilhelm Loibner. This, too, is in mono and rather withdrawn
in quality, possibly because the concert location was the Kyoritsu
Women’s University Auditorium. His performance is pungently
dramatic with superb drama and incendiary octaves a-plenty.
The orchestra doesn’t particularly distinguish itself
in glory - the NHK was not then technically the orchestra it
has since become - but Gilels provides compensation enough.
His playing is poetically alluring in the slow movement and
full of potent fire in the finale.
Beethoven’s G major concerto was taped at the same time.
The sound here is a touch dryer and less attractive than the
Tchaikovsky, though I can’t think why that should be if
the tape comes from the same source. This is an eloquent reading,
warmly played and sympathetically conducted. Only the finale
is somewhat less than satisfying, with some erratic playing
from Gilels here and there.
Apart from a single page devoted to the history of the orchestra
the booklet is wholly in Japanese. The performances are strong
and sometimes flawed, preserved in sound that is sometimes limited.
I liked much of Gieseking’s Emperor and greatly
admired Gilels’s Tchaikovsky, but this is a work with
which he was much associated and I don’t know, in the
end, in a busy market-place, if the electricity generated -
and it truly is generated - is sufficient draw.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven
Concerto 4 ~~ Concerto
5 ~~ Tchaikovsky