One of the most grown-up review sites around

52,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Yes we are selling
Acte Prealable again!
£11 post-free

we also sell Skarbo

and Oboe Classics


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas

Book 1 Book 2 Book3
Mota The Triptych: -Website

WYASTONE releases

The Birth of Rhapsody in Blue
A superlative recreation

such a success

An outstanding performance

make acquaintance without delay

Violin Concerto
This is an impressive disc

Strong advocacy
for a British composer

Piano Music - Martin Jones
agreeably crafted

Piano Music 5CDs

Consistently fine

Rare and interesting repertoire

An excellent introduction

A Celebration on Record

An issue of importance

A splendid disc

both enlightening and rewarding
additional review


Plain text for smartphones & printers

We are currently offering in excess of 52,000 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

a vibrant slice of life

stylistically assured

About Every Hill and Valley
Swedish Songs

Hallberg and Dente
interesting and most welcome

An inspired partnership
additional review

A valuable document

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 Emperor [39:49]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude in B minor BWV 855a (arr. Alexander Siloti) [3:58]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major, Op.83 [48:28]
Emil Gilels (piano) (Beethoven, Bach)
Bruno Leonardo Gelber (piano) (Brahms)
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. live, NHK Hall, Tokyo, 20 April 1978 (CD 1); 9 April 1980 (CD 2)
KING INTERNATIONAL KKC2022/3 [44:01 + 48:28]

Of late, the enterprising Japanese label King International have been issuing some very interesting live concerts by renowned artists. We are very lucky that they are being distributed in the UK; this unlike many Japanese labels we can only wish for in envy.
The present two-disc sets feature eminent conductors and soloists who have performed in Japan with that illustrious group of musicians, the NHK Symphony Orchestra. I was very excited at the prospect of reviewing this set, as it features one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century and certainly one of my favorites, Emil Gilels. Born in Odessa, now part of Ukraine, in 1916, Gilels did not hail from a particularly musical family, but they had a piano. The young Emil took to the instrument and underwent strict musical training in his formative years, as was the way in Russia in those days. After graduating from the Odessa Conservatory in 1935, he went on to study with the great Soviet pianist and pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow. His conscientiousness and early grounding in scales and arpeggios formed the foundation of his magnificent technique. Gilels was to become a keyboard titan. His, however, was not just a fabulous technique; his tremendous gifts were dedicated to the service of the music he was playing. He did not let technique stand in the way of good taste and style, and his interpretations were always free of mannerisms and eccentricities.
The adjective which comes to mind when listening to the opening cadenza of the Beethoven concerto featured here is ‘magisterial’. It’s an apt description for a grand concerto nicknamed Emperor, though this was not Beethoven’s title. All the same, it sets the scene for what is to follow. This is truly an aristocratic performance. I have always greatly admired the spiritual depth of Gilels’ Beethoven, and of the twenty or so complete sets of his piano sonatas I confess to possessing, I would place Gilels’ cycle, albeit incomplete (he only recorded 27 out of the 32 due to his untimely death in 1985), in the top three of my favourites. In the performance of the concerto here, this spiritual approach is evident. He penetrates to the emotional core of the work and has an instinctive understanding of its architectural structure. There is contrast between the grandeur and bravura technique required in the first and third movements and the imaginative way he scales down his playing to shape the phrases in the second movement. In the latter he finds eloquence, sensitivity, subtlety and beauty of tone. Yet, all the while, the tenderness he elicits is completely devoid of sickly sentimentality. Here is playing which is truly top-drawer. Sawallisch is a worthy collaborator, also understanding the architecture of the work, and he sustains the momentum throughout. He inspires the orchestra to give an involved and committed performance, and the sound he draws from them is warm and vibrant. This is a truly great live performance. You certainly get the feeling that both pianist and conductor are at one. As an encore, Gilels gives a beautiful rendition of the Bach B minor Prelude BWV 855a, in a transcription by Alexander Siloti.
The Beethoven Concerto here is in a different class to the live recording of the same work from December 1976, in which Gilels is partnered by Kurt Masur and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra (Brilliant Classics 92132/2) which has a harsh, over-bright sound with a lot of audience noise. Masur, unlike Sawallisch, is very routine and uninvolved and does not inspire Gilels. The result is perfunctory and uninspired. Similarly the 1958 live performance from Prague with the Czech Philharmonic under Kurt Sanderling is in poor sound. The whole thing is rushed and ragged, and sounds under-rehearsed. I found the bronchial afflictions of some of the audience, further marred the effect: Multisonic 31 0106.
I recently heard on German radio a live broadcast of the Emperor from 2006. It was with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis and featured the second pianist on this CD, Bruno Leonardo Gelber. It was my first encounter with his playing and it was a wonderful performance, leaving a very favorable impression indeed. I thought to myself that I would have to explore this pianist’s work further, so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the performer here in the Brahms Second Piano Concerto was none other than Gelber. Once again we are given a magisterial performance. I love the exquisite voicing of the opening chords of the first movement and the dramatic way he energises the work after the orchestral tutti. Gelber is large- scaled and shows he has the technique to meet the tremendous challenges that this concerto presents. Sawallisch’s reading is likewise big-boned and both pianist and conductor were obviously inspired by the occasion. Both tempi and dynamics are well-judged throughout and the orchestral sound is immediate and marked by clarity, especially in the woodwind section. I particularly liked the cello solo at the start of the third movement which sets the tender mood for the entrance of the piano. The fourth movement ends the work in a blaze of glory.
These are memorable versions of two of the mainstays of the German classical concerto repertoire. The sound is excellent throughout and audience noise is minimal, in no way, intrusive and we can relish the spontaneity of a live event. Booklet notes are in Japanese only, however, but a profile of the orchestra is given in English.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Beethoven concerto 5 ~~ Brahms concerto 2