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Walter Gieseking (piano)
At the Hollywood Bowl
rec. 1955-56
MELOCLASSIC MC1041 [78:50 + 79:44]

‘Gieseking at the Hollywood Bowl’ has a good ring to it and this two-disc gatefold release contains three concertos and a raft of solo works from the mid-50s. Dean Elder’s booklet notes relate that illness caused the cancellation of a projected 1938 trip to the Bowl so there was much anticipation when he finally appeared in August 1955 to play the Schumann with Erich Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

After a brusque opening piano statement Gieseking plays with elastic phrasing and some quite impulsive daring, his passagework inclined occasionally to be somewhat rhetorical and his slow movement rather heavy and erratic. The splashier moments in the finale attest to a strongly engaged performance – rather that than a cautious insipid one – and a real slice of concerto life in the open-air. It would be interesting to know precisely how Gieseking approached this venue because his Rachmaninov Second Concerto from the following year, with Izler Solomon conducting, replicates some of the more showy elements to be heard in the Schumann. That famous live Rachmaninov concerto brace (Concertos two and three) that Gieseking performed with Mengelberg in Amsterdam in 1940 (and were recorded) make a striking contrast, given Gieseking’s far greater velocity in the Bowl. If there is some strikingly theatrical chording in the first movement this sense of possibly over-projected vehemence, allied to a recorded balance that favours the piano, gives the performance kinetic propulsion. The last of the concertos is the Grieg, again with Solomon. This is a work Gieseking had much earlier recorded on 78s, to very little effect, with Rosbaud; not even this great conductor could draw the thing together. Though Gieseking retains some curiously skittish approaches, this performance is happily somewhat better than that 1937 shellac set, even with minor executant slips, occasionally scrappy orchestral playing and what sounds like tutti dampening by the engineers of the time.

The sequence of solo works that Gieseking performed at these concerts presents expected staples from his repertoire as well a couple of novelties. He plays Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cipressi, Op.17 and Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land, two pieces missing from his commercial legacy. The former is played with evocative colour and the latter is an equal delight. His Ravel is tempestuous, and the audience breaks into premature applause during Alborada del gracioso and the Debussy Arabesques and Golliwogg’s Cakewalk differ little from his other recordings of them. Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso is played with scintillating esprit. An encore of Greig’s Trolltog is hammered out in capital letters.

This twofer catches the pianist in unfamiliar open-air concerts performing romantic concertos and more intimate solo works. Mediating between projection and introspection is never easy in such circumstances and it’s fascinating to listen to the decision-making and compromises inherent in trying to do just that. Add two nuggets never before recorded and you have a release to ponder.

Jonathan Woolf
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 54 [27:28]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Une barque sur l’ocťan, from Miroirs, M 43, No 3 [4:28]
Ondine, from Gaspard de la nuit, M 55, No 1 [5:08]
Alborada del gracioso, from Miroirs, M 43, No 4 [5:02]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Stšndchen, Op 17, No 2 arr. Gieseking [2:24]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune, from Suite bergamasque, L 75, No 3 [4:18]
rec. 23 August 1955, Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, NBC Live Recording
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor, Op 18 [29:59]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Izler Solomon
rec. 16 August 1956, Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, NBC Live Recording
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu No 3 in B-flat Major, D 935 [11.29]
Impromptu No 4 in A-flat Major, D 899 [6:41]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Rondo Capriccioso, Op 14 [5:45]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in D Minor, K 9, L 413 [4:09]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Lieder ohne Worte in E Major, Op 19, No 1 [4:09]
rec.16 August 1956, Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, NBC ∑ Live Recording
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16 [26:56]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Izler Solomon
Trolltog ‘March of the dwarfs’ from Book V, Op 54, No 3 [3:11]
Cipressi, Op 17 [6:25]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Lotus Land, Op 47, No 1 [4:21]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Arabesque No 1, L 66 [3:16]
Arabesque No 2, L 66 [2:44]
Golliwogg’s Cakewalk, from Children’s Corner, L 113, No 6 [2:33]
rec 23 August 1956, Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, NBC Live Recording

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