Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 7 in D,
No. 25 in G,
No. 26 in E?,
Op. 81a, “Das Lebewohl.”
Variations and Fugue in E?,
Op. 35, “Eroica”
Emil Gilels (pn)
HÄNNSLER 94.221 (75:59) Live: Ludwigsburg 9/21/1980
The man with the golden tone, one of the first modern pianists, the
“little giant”—Emil Gilels has been described in these various ways and more. And though most Russian pianists of his generation played little Mozart or Haydn, the one composer that they all performed was Beethoven. But how does one approach Beethoven when one plays little of the music of his predecessors? With a pianist like Gilels with his modern temperament, his gorgeous rounded tone and his powerful sound, one may think that all of his Beethoven is grand, intellectual, logical, unsentimental; though some of these ring true, Gilels is never unemotive. He sees the music for what it is and tries to capture that spirit with all of his powers. Sometimes he is more successful than others.
The optimism and gentle lyricism of the opening movement of the great early D-Major Sonata, op. 10/3, is captured perfectly. All of those qualities that distinguish his playing are in evidence here: the rounded sound, the power at climaxes, the “sensible” quality of the whole. Where that “sensible” quality is not wanted, however, is in the great
: I understand the kind of message that Gilels sees here, one of a calm surface, with great inner tension, but I miss the more all-consuming qualities of other performances. (I think here of Edwin Fischer on Music & Arts 880—the sound is not wonderful, but the performances make up for it! He brings a certain weight to the piece, a building and releasing of tension that lends the work a certain gravitas.) Where Gilels especially shines is in the finale. His crescendos are so overwhelming that one feels them in one’s core. His soft playing is even more astonishing, especially at the speed he takes—the section at 1:30, when the motion goes from a sweeping torrent of sound to a gentle ebb is just miraculous. His “Eroica” Variations are also magnificent, though the pianist sees them as lighter constructions than some. He plays them as if they were still a part of the 18th century, not one that fully looked forward to the 19th—light tones, brilliant scales, spare pedaling. He brings the requisite energy and then some, and a superb ability to delineate voices; one always hears the initial bass line’s importance in the variations. But most of all Gilels brings a sense of danger, a willingness to take chances: The treacherous Variation XIII is full of wrong notes, but that hardly stops the pianist from speeding up through them. Nothing will stand in his way. The small G-Major Sonata, op. 79, is charmingly played by Gilels. In his hands this is hardly a sonatina—rather more of a “little giant” of a masterpiece. The op. 81a Sonata too is well played: In its short time span we move from the profound reflection of the introduction, through the boisterousness of the first movement’s main body, the deep longing of the
, finally settling on the most profound joy one can fulfill, that of realized hope. An abrupt, but well deserved “Bravo” rounds out the disc.
In general the sound is excellent, the audience noises are all kept to a minimum. Though Gilels may not be my top choice for all of the repertoire that he performs here, his approach to this music is always heartfelt, and his technical abilities at their best—as they are for most of this recital—are extraordinary. Whether one likes their Beethoven more emotive or less, more controlled or freer, more hysterical or more composed, Gilels plays with an authority all his own. Though one may not always agree with his playing, one will always be mesmerized by it.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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