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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major Op. 10 No. 3 [23:39]
15 Variations with fugue in E flat Eroica Op.35 [23:35]
Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major Op.79 [10:21]
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major Op.81a Les Adieux [16:33]
Emil Gilels (piano)
rec. 21 September 1980, Ludwigsburg.
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.221 [75:59]

Like his fellow Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels has a vast and impressive discography. However, in each case these pianists did not amass this impressive body of recordings in the studio alone. The bulk is padded out by live concert and off-air recordings, whose provenance is not always assured, and whose sound can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. There are no such problems here, with a Beethoven recital Gilels gave in Ludwigsburg in 1980.
 
Gilels was something of a Beethoven specialist. Whilst he has several concerto cycles to his name, his untimely death in 1985 at the age of sixty-eight, left us with an incomplete studio cycle of the thirty-two piano sonatas. Devotees will regret the absence of a documented studio Op. 111, but we can only hope that a live one may appear from the vaults in the future. The Eroica Variations and Op. 10, No. 3 were taken into the studio in Berlin a few days prior to this recital, and these recordings form part of the nine-disc incomplete DG set (453 221).
 
What leaps out to the listener from these Ludwigsburg sessions is the spontaneity and the sheer joy of music-making. No one can cease to be amazed at the formidable technique and Gilels’ control of the music, both rhythmically and dynamically. His transcendent performances are underpinned by an intellectual understanding and architectural grasp. The listener is taken on a spiritual journey. One can forgive him the occasional finger slip, as those in Var. XIII of the Eroica; and they are in no way detrimental to the visceral excitement he communicates. All of the works featured here are similar in conception to the studio recordings. It is an uplifting experience. I was struck by the way he treats Op. 79, not as a small sonatina, but finds in it a nobility and grandeur present in the larger works.
 
The sound is excellent. There is depth and definition to the piano sound. Audience noise is unobtrusive. Applause is retained after each work, with a ‘bravo’ - my sentiments also - at the end. Notes are in German and English. In short: a sheer delight.
 
Stephen Greenbank 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonata 7 ~~ Sonatas 25 & 26