Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major Op.73 Emperor (1809) [35:31] ¹
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in E major K380, L23 [2:49] ¹
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 In B flat minor Op.23 (1875 rev. 1879 and 1889) [31:33] ²
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor Op.58 (1806) [32:05] ²
Walter Gieseking (piano); NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo/Kurt Wöss¹
Emil Gilels (piano); NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo/Wilhelm Loibner ²
rec. 21 March 1953, Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Public Hall (Gieseking); 12 October 1957, Kyoritsu Women’s University Auditorium (Gilels)
KING INTERNATIONAL KKC 2001/2 [38:04 + 63:11]
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.
Strong and sometimes flawed performances preserved in sound that is sometimes limited.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven Concerto 4 ~~ Concerto 5 ~~ Tchaikovsky Concerto