Notes and Editorial Reviews
Youthful fire and growing wisdom mark out this exciting selection.
APR’s The Russian Piano Tradition series has a series of subdivisions. This Gilels issue falls under The Neuhaus School rubric, predictably so given that Gilels studied with that great pedagogue and performer who is himself naturally represented in this series as well. The recordings have appeared on disc before and they share the same sonic limitations of so many Moscow performances of around this vintage.
This disc covers a span of two decades. The Loeillet and the Schumann Der Kontrabandiste and Toccata were recorded in 1935 and twenty years later came the Scarlatti sonatas. The intervening years saw an increasing maturity and musical
discretion enter the bloodstream of Gilels’s playing. The Loeillet-Godowsky is a charming sliver of elemental pianism, dispatched with bravura confidence and control. Its companion, the Schumann-Tausig Der Kontrabandiste is similarly vital and engrossing a performance. The Toccata was made in the same year, a reading of headlong dynamism and speed. The performance is not flattered by the rather hollow studio sonics but that’s no impediment to the coruscating virtuosity of the playing. For my taste it’s a rather unrelenting and steamrollering performance that misses the playfulness at the music’s core but there’s no doubting the digital mastery on show.
Recording matters hadn’t enormously improved when Gilels set down his Liszt in 1940. Still, La Chasse is a memorable study and the Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody is heroically done. The Ninth Rhapsody was recorded eleven years later in 1951 and here the playing scintillates; the mature Gilels in total command. The recital ends with two sonatas. The C major Beethoven sonata is especially compelling. The playing is vivid, muscular and propulsive with a rich vein of poetic projection in the Adagio, with a sense of vision and depth deeply embedded in the playing. Gilels is similarly effective in the Scherzo where he brilliantly alternates the elegant and the rustic to maximal effect. Perhaps the Prokofiev D minor sonata, recorded in Moscow in 1950, is the real highlight. There’s a May 1951 performance in the Brilliant Box devoted to the pianist; contours are pretty similar, as one would expect, though the studio performance from 1950 is slightly terser in the finale and very slightly broader in the slow movement. Otherwise differences are minimal and the drive and pulse of the music making is very similar. Gilels characterises the music with enormous dynamism and care and the results are triumphant.
Booklet documentation is excellent and the transfers cope with some of the more intractable problems of these studio discs as well as one could expect. Youthful fire and growing wisdom mark out this exciting selection.
Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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