Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 [31:16]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73 Emperor
Walter Gieseking (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
*Grosses Funkorchester/Artur Rother
rec. 13 October 1948, EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London; *23 January
1945, Saal Nr. 1, Haus des Rundfunks (Reichsender, Berlin)
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1142(1)
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) was renowned above all for his Debussy
but he was no mean interpreter of the Classical repertoire, as these
two Beethoven performances show.
The recording of the First Concerto was made for EMI and has been transferred
from 78s. By and large the transfer is successful though I noted a number
of places where the pitch wobbled a little, though never to such an
extent as to mar ones enjoyment. I was intrigued to read in Farhan Malik’s
booklet note that when the recording first appeared the name of the
conductor was withheld for contractual reasons. That’s ironic since
the conducting, especially of the first movement, is most distinguished.
Kubelik starts things softly, as it should be done, and what follows
is one of the most delightful accounts of this movement I can recall
hearing. The tempo is fleet and the playing is really light-footed.
Kubelik obtains very spruce results from the Philharmonia and when Gieseking
joins them his playing is elegant and nicely articulated. The music
has a truly Mozartian feel, which is completely appropriate. I loved
this fresh, crisp reading in which Gieseking and Kubelik seem completely
The slow movement is simple, unaffected and graceful. Gieseking’s playing
gives great pleasure and the important clarinet part is well taken.
I’m not quite so enamoured of the finale, however. The pace is surprisingly
steady and this, I’m sure, is the main reason why the performance sounds
po-faced and careful. To be sure, it’s all clear and civilised but the
music making lacks the essential sparkle. It’s rather a disappointment
after what has gone before and as a result I have to qualify my welcome.
This recording of the Emperor
Concerto is billed by Music &
Arts as “the only complete stereo recording of a classical work in stereo
surviving from [World War II]”. The performance has been released twice
before by this label (catalogue no. 637 in 1990 and catalogue no. 815
in 1994). I’ve heard neither of those releases but they must feature
a different transfer of the original source since both performances
on this present disc are now appearing in 2004 transfers by Aaron Z.
From the recording date it will be noted that the performance was recorded
in the closing months of the war when conditions in Berlin must have
been pretty grim. Indeed, in his review
Jonathan Woolf commented
can only be the noise of anti-aircraft batteries can be heard for a
while, from 16:53 in the first movement just after the start of a solo
passage for the piano. How on earth the musicians concentrated under
such circumstances, let alone turned in a good performance, is beyond
me. It is
a good performance, captured in remarkably good sound
given the age of the recording and the times in which it was made. There’s
excellent clarity and the one qualification I have about the sound is
that the orchestral bass is often somewhat booming. However, this is
not a serious issue.
The first movement opens with a strong, energetic traversal of the orchestral
tutti. Gieseking’s playing is admirable: at times the lightness of his
fingerwork impresses – between 5:26 and 5:57, for example – while at
other times, such as the passage beginning at 10:20, he can be suitably
fiery. His interpretation of the slow movement is cultivated and then
both he and the orchestra offer a virile, energetic traversal of the
finale. The performance as a whole has its rough edges, mainly in the
orchestral playing, but it’s well worth hearing.
See also review
by Colin Clarke and review
by Jonathan Woolf