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Walter Gieseking (piano) - His first concerto recordings
rec. 1932-1939
APR 7308 [3 CDs: 206:26]

APR have collated three CDs (APR5511,5512 and 5513) from their back catalogue for this 3 CD set of Walter Gieseking's first concerto recordings, set down between 1932-1939. Each of the concertos, with the exceptions of Mozart’s No. 9 ‘Jeunehomme’ and the Liszt E flat, were remade later on in the pianist’s career. Although I'm familiar with some of the later efforts, these early inscriptions I’m encountering for the first time. Gieseking’s repertoire was huge and all-encompassing. His repertoire was in no way exclusively confined to the classics, but he was an ardent champion of new music also. He played works by Schoenberg, Busoni, Hindemith and Szymanowski. He premiered Hans Pfitzner’s Piano Concerto with Fritz Busch in 1923.

When these recordings were made, Gieseking was in his prime. The playing is more light and buoyant than perhaps we are used to today. Indeed, in 1926 the pianist told Harriette Brewer, the author of Modern Masters of the Keyboard, that he felt “the whole conception of performance in these days is too heavy, loud and blatant. I prefer less power but, instead, more delicacy and ethereal refinement of tone”. This musical philosophy is translated into the performances we have here. What also surfaces is his attention to detail, allied to a wide-ranging tonal palette, qualities which gave his Debussy and Ravel playing, especially, particular appeal.

Gieseking set down studio recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 4 and 5 on three occasions. Aside from these early inscriptions, two more were to follow, both with the Philharmonia. In June 1951 he collaborated with Karajan and stereo versions followed in September 1955 with Alceo Galliera. Remarkably, the 1930 s recordings reveal a wealth of orchestral detail with the sound full-bodied, this is noticeably apparent in the Concerto No. 5. Jonathan Summers, in his booklet note to the Naxos transfer of these two early airings comments on a “lack of gravity and pathos” in the middle movement of the 4th Concerto. I have to agree. Gieseking’s more lightweight approach to this concerto doesn’t really work for me. Comparing it with the later recording with Karajan (I’ve never heard the 1955 stereo version), the latter reveals more profundity. He digs in more tone-wise, and the wealth of his musical insights, allied to the depth of poetic vision make the 1951 version infinitely more satisfying.

The sprightly, lithe account of the First Concerto works well. Rosbaud sets a brisk pace for the opening movement, and Gieseking’s pristine fingerwork over the semi-quaver passages has a clarity and evenness that evokes admiration. The sublime Largo is restrained and fervent with the smiling finale brimming with heart-warming agility. There’s a later recording of the work from October 1948 with Rafael Kubelik and the Philharmonia, but I don't know it to offer a comparison.

I find Gieseking’s Mozart playing very attractive. In the Concerto No. 9 ‘Jeunehomme’ the pianist once again teams up with the Berlin State Opera House Orchestra and Hans Rosbaud, The outer movements exude geniality and are executed with youthful energy and panache. In the tender and poetic Andantino there’s an underlying melancholy, but not overindulged. Throughout there’s a pervading sense of wonder, freshness and spontaneity, qualities I also find in his performance of the B flat major Piano Sonata, K570.

In the Liszt Concerto Gieseking eschews barnstorming in exchange for classicism and refinement. The fineness of the third movement, especially, is strangely compelling, with the finale notable for its exuberance and ebullience. The orchestra is the London Philharmonic under Sir Henry Wood. From the same October 1932 session they recorded the Franck Variations symphoniques. Gieseking delivers an assured account of this lesser known work, appearing to have a close affinity with it, so much so that he rerecorded it in 1951 with Karajan. As for the Grieg Concerto, it is a work I have to admit that I dislike intensely, so I’m probably not the best person to give an objective view. In this romantic war-horse Gieseking seems to be fully in tune.

These warm, vibrant transfers were made by Bryan Crimp, APR’s retired founder, who provides some excellent annotations, supplying background and context to the recordings. The booklet contains some fascinating black and white photographs of the pianist.

I'm pleased that APR are holding something of a candle for Walter Gieseking. I would recommend APR’s transfers of The 1950s solo studio recordings which I reviewed last year and awarded Recording of the Month (review).

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [74:52]
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K271 ‘Jeunehomme’
Berlin State Opera House Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud
recorded in Berlin in 29th September 1926
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 17 in B flat major, K570
recorded in Berlin on 20th September 1936
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
recorded in Berlin on 28th April 1937
Berlin State Opera House Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud

CD 2 [68:32]
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Saxon State Orchestra/Karl Böhm
recorded in Berlin on 2nd January 1929
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 'Emperor'
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
recorded in Vienna on 10th-11th September 1934
Bach, JS: Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV825 - Menuet I & II; Gigue
recorded in Vienna on 10th September 1934

CD 3 [63:02]
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S124
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Henry J Wood
recorded in London on 31st October 1932
Franck, C: Symphonic Variations for piano & orchestra, M46
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Henry J Wood
recorded in London on 31st October 1932
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Berlin State Opera House Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud
recorded in Berlin on 28th April & 13th October 1937
Grieg: Lyric Pieces Op. 68: No. 5 - At the cradle
Lyric Pieces Op. 62: No. 3 - French Serenade
recorded in Berlin on 29th April 1937



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