Like his fellow Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels has
a vast and impressive discography. However, in each case these pianists
did not amass this impressive body of recordings in the studio alone.
The bulk is padded out by live concert and off-air recordings, whose
provenance is not always assured, and whose sound can sometimes leave
a lot to be desired. There are no such problems here, with a Beethoven
recital Gilels gave in Ludwigsburg in 1980.
Gilels was something of a Beethoven specialist. Whilst he has several
concerto cycles to his name, his untimely death in 1985 at the age of
sixty-eight, left us with an incomplete studio cycle of the thirty-two
piano sonatas. Devotees will regret the absence of a documented studio
Op. 111, but we can only hope that a live one may appear from the vaults
in the future. The Eroica Variations
and Op. 10, No. 3 were taken
into the studio in Berlin a few days prior to this recital, and these
recordings form part of the nine-disc incomplete DG set (453 221).
What leaps out to the listener from these Ludwigsburg sessions is the
spontaneity and the sheer joy of music-making. No one can cease to be
amazed at the formidable technique and Gilels’ control of the
music, both rhythmically and dynamically. His transcendent performances
are underpinned by an intellectual understanding and architectural grasp.
The listener is taken on a spiritual journey. One can forgive him the
occasional finger slip, as those in Var. XIII of the Eroica
and they are in no way detrimental to the visceral excitement he communicates.
All of the works featured here are similar in conception to the studio
recordings. It is an uplifting experience. I was struck by the way he
treats Op. 79, not as a small sonatina, but finds in it a nobility and
grandeur present in the larger works.
The sound is excellent. There is depth and definition to the piano sound.
Audience noise is unobtrusive. Applause is retained after each work,
with a ‘bravo’ - my sentiments also - at the end. Notes
are in German and English. In short: a sheer delight.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven
piano sonata 7
25 & 26