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Walter Gieseking (piano) - The 1950s Solo Studio Recordings
rec. 1951-1956
APR 7402 [4 CDs: 280:05]

This authoritative and well-transferred set resolves something of a lacuna in Gieseking’s discography given that some of these performances have been rather difficult to source. As so often, Japan has led the way in their restoration but unless you wanted to suffer import duty it was a dilemma as to whether to take the plunge. Now APR has come to the rescue with four CDs of Gieseking’s complete solo 1950s recordings of music by Brahms, Schubert and Schumann that reject his 1951 Kinderszenen recording in favour of his 1955 remake.

Brahms’ Klavierstücke, Opp.76, 118 and 119, the Fantasies, Op.116, Intermezzi, Op.117 and the Rhapsodies, Op.79 were clearly part of an overview of late-Brahms envisaged by EMI’s A and R team. These somewhat erratic examples of Gieseking’s art reflect both his control of the expressive introspection of the writing – the Intermezzo in B minor, Op.119 is a fine example of this quality – as well as anxious phrasing that lacks any kind of repose, as in the unfortunate case of the Rhapsody in B minor, Op.79. Its companion has a gnarly sense of engagement which is an element of Gieseking’s playing during some of these sessions. When on song, as he often is in the Op.116 set – the stormily dramatic Capriccio in D minor – or in the judiciously weighted chords and colour-conscious playing of the Intermezzo in E flat major, Op.117, he is deeply persuasive. The chaste lyricism and expert pedaling in the Intermezzo in A major, Op.118 is another high-water mark of Brahms playing that veers between extremes interpretatively and indeed technically on occasion.

His 1955 Kinderszenen is splendidly voiced and full of tonal lustre throughout, though there’s also something rather crisp about phrasing here and there. As it draws to a close one misses the expressive depth and significance excavated by, say, the elderly Carl Friedberg in his 1953 Zodiac recording. Carnaval is similarly rather uneven in places and whilst it coheres it’s not always comfortable. He does include Sphinxes.

Disc three includes both sets of Schubert Impromptus. Gieseking’s way here might be seen to parallel Schnabel and Kempff in Schubert and Beethoven. The C minor Impromptu is stately and quite slow, Gieseking remaining lighter on the pedal and less densely articulated than Schnabel in this repertoire – as indeed was Kempff. He does summon up expressive calm in the A flat major, D935. His Moments musicaux, recorded on 78s in 1951, are again a touch uneven. The C major sounds awkward but there’s refined lyricism in the central section of the A flat major.

There are two pieces by Chopin – the Berceuse, Op.57 and Barcarolle, Op.60, both attractive and fluent without ever quite being personalised – and two by Scriabin recorded on the same day. These last may well whet the appetite for the sequence of Sonatas and Op.11 Preludes that can be found on various Music and Arts boxes devoted to Gieseking. This 1956 brace reflects only briefly the great admiration Gieskeing felt for Scriabin’s music – a reportorial choice that is perhaps linked with his espousing of the Rachmaninoff concertos, live recordings of which show an incendiary romantic side unguessed at from the examples to be heard in his studio discography.

The excellent transfers by Al Lesitsky and booklet notes from the pen of Frank Latino complete an admirable package.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)

CD 1 [73’47]
Klavierstücke Op 119 recorded on 22–23 June 1951
Rhapsodies Op 79 recorded on 20 June 1951
Kinderszenen Op 15 recorded on 1 & 3 September 1955
Carnaval Op 9 recorded on 25–26 September 1951
Schlummerlied Op 124 No 16 recorded on 1 September 1955
Vogel als Prophet Op 82 No 7 recorded on 17 October 1956

CD 2 [78’53]
Klavierstücke Op 76 recorded on 20 June 1951
Fantasies Op 116 recorded on 20–21 June 1951
Intermezzi Op 117 recorded on 21 June 1951
Klavierstücke Op 118 recorded on 21–22 June 1951

CD 3 [61’51]
Impromptus Op 90, D899 recorded on 3, 5 & 6 September 1955
Impromptus Op 142, D935 recorded on 2, 3 & 5 September 1955

CD 4 [65’34]
Moments musicaux Op 94, D780 recorded on 29 September 1951
Drei Klavierstücke D946 recorded on 17 October 1956
Berceuse Op 57 recorded on 18 October 1956
Barcarolle Op 60 recorded on 18 October 1956
Poème Op 32 No 1 recorded on 18 October 1956
Prélude Op 15 No 4 recorded on 18 October 1956



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