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

I enjoyed reading Dean Elder's booklet notes to this release as they paint a picture of this outstanding pianist from a student's perspective. Both Elder and his wife studied with Gieseking. The pianist was remarkable by any standards. His perfect pitch, photographic memory and immediate recall of works he hadn't played for years were all underpinned by a phenomenal and natural technique. Then there were those personal qualities of kindness, generosity and modesty which endeared him to all those he came in contact with. Sadly, he died far too young, just ten days before his 61st birthday.

In the summer of 1938, he was scheduled to appear at the Hollywood Bowl, but the concert had to be cancelled due to illness. Engagements at the Bowl eventually did take place, with a pair in August 1955 and a return the following August. Three of those concerts, all NBC live recordings, make an appearance on this welcome twofer.

The earliest performance here is the Schumann Concerto with Erich Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gieseking made two studio recordings of the work, the first around 1940-42 with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Karl Böhm. In August 1953 he revisited the concerto again, this time at the Kingsway Hall London, with Karajan directing the Philharmonia. It’s is a sympathetic performance, much better than the live 1942 performance with Furtwängler, where there doesn't seem to be much of a meeting of minds. The live performance with Leinsdorf isn't too different, interpretation-wise, from the Karajan collaboration of two years earlier. The opening movement remains rhythmically charged and once again, in the central Intermezzo, he takes an expansive view. The piano is forwardly projected.

Gieseking never made a commercial recording of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto, but the discography lists three other live airings (two with Mengelberg and one with Barbirolli) besides this one with Izler Solomon and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The performance is eloquent and passionate, with lyrical sections finely chiselled and colourfully etched. The ending of the finale is a bit overdone, with Gieseking adding his own flourishes rather than adhering to the written score.

Izler Solomon and the Los Angeles Philharmonic also partner Gieseking in the Grieg Concerto. Once again, a studio recording with Karajan exists from 1951 in addition to one with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra directed by Hans Rosbaud from October 1937. It's the least successful of the concerto performances in the set, marred by some untidy passagework from the pianist and some orchestral playing which, at times, seems unrehearsed.

The solo items contain works by composers the pianist excelled in. I'm thinking especially of the French Impressionistic music of Debussy and Ravel. Gieseking recorded both composers’ complete piano works. It's good to hear a selection of this repertoire live, and I have to say that the same qualities one finds in his studio traversals reside here. The legendary pedal technique is utilised to achieve colour and texture, and the effect is almost hypnotic. I'm particularly drawn to Mendelssohn's Rondo Capriccioso, where Gieseking gives a sparkling account of elfin-like delicacy. He also throws in a couple of rarities for good measure with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cipressi and Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land.

The outdoor concerts have been well-captured by the NBC engineers, and the piano is bright and clear. Although his recording career was prolific, these historic documents make a valuable addition to an already well-packed discography.

It’s always a pleasure to savour the playing of this wonderful pianist.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: 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’océan, 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)
Ständchen, 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]
Golliwog’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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