Notes and Editorial Reviews
This disc won the Gramophone Award for Best Instrumental Recording of 1984.
There is in this performance a real sense of the meeting of minds, of great issues imaginatively addressed. Beethoven's conception is a seamless whole; and the CD presents that whole with flawless ease.
On CD the music has an electric physical immediacy; in the first movement the piano sound is at once as luminous and as physically solid as the marble out of which Michelangelo hewed his masterpieces. Having listened to the performance many times since I first reviewed the LP last December, I am more and more convinced by the integrity and probity of Gilels's—in some ways, highly personal—way with the sonata as a whole and its
first movement in particular. There the sense of travail is not so much physical (for all one's heightened awareness of the physical fact of the piano) as imaginative. Musically, there's no racing or ranting. Instead there is a sense of Beethoven's striving for some moment of transfiguration (Gilels's playing is endlessly satisfying in lyrical passages) which never actually arrives. It is glimpsed, perhaps, in the slow movement, with its lofty, disburdened beauty. Here the sheer clarity of the recording may be a slight drawback, though all recordings suffer to an extent from their inability to convey a sense of distance; the sense one has in the concert hall of really quiet music coming from afar. As I said in my original review, Gilels doesn't use his virtuosity to conquer or tame the final fugue. The sense of disorder is not minimized; rather, it is provisionally challenged by Gilels's unerringly lucid sense of Beethoven's own massive intellectual and imaginative achievement in presenting us with so searing and desperately beautiful a glimpse of purgatory itself. As Rodney Milnes aptly observed in the end-of-year "Critics' Choice" on BBC Radio 3's Record Review, there is in this performance a real sense of the meeting of minds, of great issues imaginatively addressed. And how good it is to be able to go from one unresolved movement to the next without the need to turn over the disc. Beethoven's conception is a seamless whole; and the CD presents that whole with flawless ease.
-- Gramophone [2/1984, reviewing the original release]
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