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Emil Gilels in Ensembles
Emil Gilels (piano)
Elizaveta Gilels (violin), Yakov Shapiro (horn), Yakov Flier (piano), Yakov Zak (piano), Dmitri Tsyganov (violin), Vadim Borisovsky (viola), Sergei Shirinsky (cello)
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. 1946-1959
Full track-listing at end of review
MELODIYA MELCD1002210 [4 CDs: 244:46]

This 4 CD set has been released in anticipation of the forthcoming centenary of the birth of Emil Gilels in 2016. Melodiya have collected 'unreleased recordings from original tapes' of collaborations the pianist had with other Russian artists. Piano duets, instrumental duets and chamber works comprise this valuable anthology. The recordings were made over a thirteen year period between 1946 and 1959. Melodiya states in the booklet that this is the beginning of an 'expanded edition' of the pianist's legacy - an exciting prospect.
Born in Odessa, now part of Ukraine, in 1916, Gilels did not hail from a particularly musical family, but they had a piano. The young Emil took to the instrument and underwent strict musical training in his formative years, as was the way in Russia in those days. After graduating from the Odessa Conservatory in 1935, he went on to study with the great Soviet pianist and pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow. His conscientiousness and early grounding in scales and arpeggios formed the foundation of his magnificent technique. Gilels was to become a keyboard titan. This reputation was founded not just on a fabulous technique; his tremendous gifts were dedicated to the service of the music he was playing. He did not let his virtuosity stand in the way of good taste and style, and his interpretations were always free of mannerisms and eccentricities.

CD 1: What better opening to the set than the electrifying and scintillating Busoni arrangement for two pianos of Mozart's Overture to The Magic Flute. Here Gilels is joined by Yakov Zak. Zak was also born in Odessa and, like Gilels, studied with Heinrich Neuhaus. Two other Busoni arrangements of Mozart (Fantasia in F minor and Duettino concertante) are likewise dispatched with precision, accuracy and a like-minded approach. The Saint-Saens, a piece new to me, is a rarity that will be welcomed. Despite the ageing sound the Concerto for two pianos K 365, conducted by Kondrashin, is a warm, vibrant and compelling performance. The contents of CD 1 have previously been released in 2007 by APR, but LP transfers were used in that instance rather than the original tapes here. I have never heard their transfers to compare.

CD 2: In Haydn's Violin Sonata No. 1, Emil Gilels partners his sister Elizaveta Gilels. I am not overly enamored by this less-than-inspired work - not one of Haydn's best. It would have been better to hear them in one of the Mozart or Beethoven sonatas. Whilst Emil Gilels makes the best of a bad job, Elizaveta isn't inspired by this lacklustre music and gives a pedestrian account characterized by monotony and dullness. The Beethoven Horn Sonata fares better, with an ardent performance in which the horn soloist is Yakov Shapiro. The other Yakov (Zak) is the pianist in the two-piano version of Brahms' Haydn Variations. This is alluring and is in good sound. This is not the case with the two Cui pieces which are somewhat sonically compromised. These works are completely new to me but enjoyable though, with Gilels being partnered by yet another Yakov, this time Flier.

CD 3: Once again Gilels is joined by Yakov Zak, and first up is the Suite No. 2 Op. 17 by Rachmaninov. Here each brings his virtuosic technique to a performance notable for its energy and power. The lyrical moments are allowed to express themselves. Leonid Nikolayev won't be that well-known but his Suite Op. 13 is an easy and pleasurable listen. Full of memorable tunes, I can't understand why it isn't programmed more often. The disc is completed by Chopin and Liszt in versions distinguished by a sense of shared purpose.

CD 4: Here we have two chamber works recorded in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The Brahms is a live recording and suffers from dated thin sonics and some audience bronchial participation. Nevertheless, what a terrific performance. The first movement is delivered with great commitment and passion. I have never heard the slow movement played with so much warmth and feeling. In the Hungarian gypsy rondo, the quartet up the pace in a rhythmically charged and briskly accelerated finale. An indication as to the excitement of the occasion is shown in the appreciative applause that follows. The Babayev Trio is obviously from a different concert, and no date is given. I would strongly suspect that this was not recorded live as the sound is almost studio quality with no background noise. Again, it is something of a rarity but a pleasing listen.

A plus point with this box, aside from the superlative music-making, is the number of unusual and rare items this set has to offer. As we have come to expect from Melodiya the documentation is illuminating - in Russian with English and French translations.

A worthy tribute to a great pianist.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [68.43]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) - Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
1.Overture to The Magic Flute, K. 620 [6.18]
2.Fantasia in F minor, K. 608 [9.31]
3.Duettino concertante, K. 459 [6.57]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
4.Fugue in C minor, K. 426 [4.09]
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
5.Variations on a Theme by Beethoven, Op. 35 [17.39]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Concerto No. 10 for two pianos and orchestra in E flat major, K. 365/316a
6.I Allegro [9.46]
7.II Andante [7.38]
8.III Rondo. Allegro [6.40]
Emil Gilels, piano
Yakov Zak, piano
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin (6-8)
Recorded in 1948-1952.

CD 2 [60.00]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano in G major, Hob. XV:32
1.I Andante [7.31]
2.II Allegro [9.35]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for horn and piano in F major, Op. 17
3.I Allegro moderato [7.50]
4.II Poco Adagio quasi Andante [1.33]
5.III Rondo. Allegro moderato [4.56]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
6.Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56 [16.22]
Cesar CUI (1835-1918)
Three Pieces for two pianos, Op. 69
7.No. 1 Intermezzo [2.36]
8.No. 2 Nocturne [9.33]
Emil Gilels, piano
Elizaveta Gilels, violin (1-2)
Yakov Shapiro, horn (3-5)
Yakov Zak, piano (6)
Yakov Flier, piano (7-8)
Recorded in 1951 (1-5), 1946 (6), 1949 (7-8).

CD 3 [62.54]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1875-1943)
Suite No. 2 for two pianos in C major, Op. 17
1.Introduction [3.47]
2.Waltz [5.26]
3.Romance [6.12]
4.Tarantella [5.45]
Leonid NIKOLAYEV (1904-1934)
Suite for two pianos in B minor, Op. 13
5.Prelude [4.8]
6.Intermezzo [3.37]
7.Melody [3.2]
8.Fugue [2.24]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
9.Rondo for two pianos in C major, Op. 73 [9.16]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Concerto pathetique for two pianos in E minor, S. 258
10. Allegro energico - Andante sostenuto -Allegro agitato assai [18.41]
Emil Gilels, piano
Yakov Zak, piano
Recorded in 1946 (1-4), 1951 (5-8), 1950 (9), 1949 (10).

CD 4 [53.09]
Johannes BRAHMS
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25
1.I Allegro [10.39]
2. II Intermezzo. Allegro ma non troppo - Trio. Animato [6.41]
3.III Andante con moto [8.30]
4.IV Rondo alla Zingarese. Presto [7.35]
Andrey BABEYEV (1923-1964)
Trio for piano, violin and cello in C sharp minor
5.I Allegro [7.12]
6.II Scherzo [2.13]
7.III Moderato [5.59]
8.IV Finale [4.15]
Emil Gilels, piano
Dmitri Tsyganov, violin
Vadim Borisovsky, viola (1-4)
Sergei Shirinsky, cello
Recorded at the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 3 January 1959 (1-4).
Recorded in the 1950s (5-8).