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Emil Gilels – The Complete RCA and Columbia Album Collection
rec. 1955-1979
SONY 88875177312 [7 CDs: 4 hours 53 mins]

The centenary of Emil Gilels’ birth is being met in several ways. Here we have an inexpensive original jacket collection with the familiar facsimile sleeves which contains the first ever collection of his complete recordings for RCA and Columbia made between 1955 and 1979. Therein lies something of an irony, as several years ago Sony released a purported complete edition – failing to notice that they’d omitted Schubert’s A minor Sonata, D784. If you bought that, you may well be gnashing your teeth at this new complete edition.

There’s a three-language booklet to accompany the miniaturised sleeves housed in a conventional and attractive box. Full recording information is provided. Remastering has been carried out by Martin Kistner of b-sharp music and media solutions. I’ve not been able to compare and contrast these transfers with previous Sony ones so can’t give any authoritative account of any sonic differences. Nevertheless, they sound fine to me, and given they’re hardly of antique vintage there’s no reason why they should be anything else.

And the recordings? Well, classics of course so there’s no great need to linger over them in detail. There are the two recordings of the Tchaikovsky No.1. The first is with Reiner. Some over the years have carped about the noticeable edits and the recording quality of this 1955 session but surely all that can be subsumed into admiration for the sheer panache and bravura of the performance. By the time he re-recorded it with Mehta 24 years later the outer movements had inevitably cooled somewhat and the audience at this live Avery Fisher Hall concert suffered somewhat from seasonal chills, if the coughing is anything to go by.

The wonder of the collaboration between Gilels and Reiner in Brahms’ B flat major concerto is this very linear reading manages to enjoy such perfectly pointed playful episodes and achieves a truly affecting solemnity in the slow movement. Even those more familiar with the later Jochum recording – spacious, stoic, but powerful – will find this much earlier reading to possess all these qualities but in a more urgent way. He has the master accompanist Ormandy on hand for this utterly natural and unaffected reading of Chopin’s E minor Concerto, made in December 1964. There’s exquisite refinement to be encountered and no sign of sentimentality or pretension.

Possibly what threw the compilers of that previous collection was that Gilels recorded two Schubert sonatas at Town Hall in New York in the first half-decade of the 1960s. The D major, D850, has disc 3 all to itself and is a performance of warmth and sensitivity with a finale as wittily dapper as you would wish. That truant Schubert Sonata enjoys is a performance of similar naturalness of phrasing though clearly cast on a far less imposing scale of rhetoric. It snuggles neatly in a disc that contains Gilels’ heroically controlled recording of Liszt’s Sonata. The ‘orchestral’ interpretation of Shostakovich’s B minor sonata must have introduced many in the West to the work and it was originally coupled with Bach’s French Suite No.5, set down fully five years earlier than the Shostakovich.

So, this is a worthy if somewhat belated complete edition from Sony.

Jonathan Woolf
Full track listing
Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano concerto No.1 in B flat minor, op.23 (1875) [33:43]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 29 October 1955, Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major, Op.83 (1878-81) [45:13]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 8 February 1958, Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No.17, D850 (1825) [41:32]
rec. 16-20 January 1960, Town Hall, New York City
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B Minor, S178 (1852-3) [32:21]
rec. 24 December 1964 and 5 January 1965, Town Hall, New York City
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata D 784 Op. Posth. 143 (1823) [21:34]
rec. 22-23 December 1964 and 8 January 1965, Town Hall, New York City
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61 (1943) [28:23]
rec. 8 January 1965, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suite No.5 in G major BWV 816 (c.1724) [19:57]
rec. 25 February 1960, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano concerto no.1 in E minor, op.11 (1830) [39:51]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 31 December 1964, Town Hall, Philadelphia
Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano concerto no.1 in B flat minor, op.23 (1875) [35:12]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude in B minor (arr. from BWV855a in E minor by Alexander Siloti) [3:49]
rec. live 14 November 1979, Lincoln Center, NYC



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