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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major, Op.83 (1878-81) [52:17]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images; Book I (1905) [14:50]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.28 (1907 rev. 1917) [7:55]
Visions fugitives Op.22; extracts; Nos. 3, 5, 10, 11, 17 (1915-17) [4:44]
Emil Gilels (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mario Rossi
rec. 19 March 1971, Funkhaus, Cologne (Brahms); 11 December 1974, Funkhaus, Cologne (Debussy and Prokofiev)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5077 [80:10]

Experience Classicsonline

Gilels was greatly associated with Brahms’s B flat major concerto in a way that he wasn’t with the First Concerto, a work for which he seems to have had little affection. According to Jonathan Summers’s liner-notes, he only gave one public performance of the earlier concerto, in July 1975. The Second, as his discography demonstrates, was a different matter. That’s also reinforced by his work calendar. He performed the Second Concerto over many years and his studio recordings, with Fritz Reiner in 1958 and Eugen Jochum in 1972, are in their very different ways, amongst the best committed to disc.
Just over a year before that collaboration with Jochum, Gilels teamed up with Mario Rossi, who directs the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, for a performance that shows that he had moved very far from his earlier, more direct and linear performance with the gimlet-eyed Reiner in Chicago. Tempi have slackened from 44 to 52 minutes. Those who know the Jochum recording will find the Rossi very similar in almost all respects. There are some local differences, a few changes of accenting and articulation, but by and large the model is in place for the performances he was to give until deciding, in 1981, no longer to perform the work in public.
The characteristics of the performance are nobility and breadth. Sonically, the string tone turns just a touch glassy at the top. Interestingly Rossi encourages the section to essay one or two portamenti. A few pianistic smudges hardly detract from the powerful concentration generated, one that continues into the eloquently played slow movement and the vital, exciting finale. Internal balancing is good, with wind harmonies making their point, and the solo cello in the slow movement sounding well.
In the same venue, but over three years later, in December 1974, Gilels brought a familiar looking recital. Debussy’s Book I of Images appeared frequently in his programmes and is beautifully played. Of Prokofiev he was one of the leading exponents. He’d first played the Third Sonata back in 1940 and was to continue to promote it almost to the very end of his concert-giving life. The five pieces from Visions fugitives were the quintet he habitually performed, though sometimes he reversed the ordering of Nos.10 and 11. Earlier Moscow performances were just a touch more incisive than this Cologne one, but characterisation remains exemplary.
Despite the existence of the Jochum, this Rossi-conducted performance is still a worthwhile acquisition for Gilels admirers.
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Brahms concerto 2

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