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Emil Gilels (piano)
Legacy - Volume 11

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op 37 (1803) [36:46]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [36:17]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eugen Jochum (Beethoven)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Rachmaninov)
rec. March 1968, Amsterdam (Beethoven): December 1966, New York (Rachmaninov)
DOREMI DHR-8100 [73:08]

Doremi has an extensive ongoing catalogue devoted to the art of Emil Gilels which reaches back to 1947 and forward to the early 1970s. This eleventh volume focuses on two concertos central to his repertoire: the third concertos of Beethoven and Rachmaninov.

I appreciate that questions relating to saturation are inevitable in soil as well tilled as Gilels’s Beethoven. Over nearly four decades he left behind numerous examples of his C minor, either commercially or off-air and companies have not been shy in making available this material. Multiple Kondrashin-accompanied traversals have somewhat muddied waters, but you may have come across Gilels’ performances with Kurt Sanderling, Boult, Cluytens, Gauk, Berglund or Masur. One you will certainly know about is his collaboration with Szell in Cleveland, a mighty meeting of equals. This latest recruit to the discography is a live Concertgebouw performance from Amsterdam given on 7 March 1968 and directed by Eugen Jochum, a frequent guest with the orchestra and one whose Philips recordings with them are imperishably beautiful.

The broadcast is back announced and comes via the Transcription Service of Radio Netherlands. Expect some light thistling sound. Jochum directs with strength but sympathy, the orchestral chords before Gilels’s entry being trenchant and dramatically emphatic. Gilels plays with characteristic eloquence, his clarity never to be equated with forensic detailing, phraseology always magisterial but communicative. The orchestra provides the tonal warmth and beauty of sound one expects, but the percussion before the cadenza show how fully energized players remain. The refinement of the slow movement is the essence of poised phrasing whilst the sparkling passagework in the finale marries animation with precision, with rhythms pointed. For a slightly more energized reading, Szell is the man.

The Rachmaninov recording (New York, 27 December 1966) is heard in better sound, uncompromised by any accompanying detritus. Though he played it often, examples of Gilels in this concerto are much rarer than the Beethoven. There’s a 1949 Kondrashin and the 1955 Cluytens. This Ormandy performance has been issued before, the first time on a Melodiya LP decades back. Anyone playing Rachmaninov’s Third with the Philadelphia and Ormandy is living under the gigantic mountain peak of the composer’s own 78 set. Gilels’ technical control can be predicted but his shaping and control of the dynamics in the music are no less superb. Lyricism and virtuosity are not simply held in equipoise, they are magically conjoined, part of the same musical means. He and Ormandy lack for nothing in comparison with Horowitz and Reiner – in fact Gilels is quicker in the Intermezzo – and the trenchant brass in the finale and the sense of fantasy and colour explored are alike imperishable examples of Gilels’ art. Ormandy is on equally powerful form in a collaboration of perfect understanding.

A one-page biographical note by Jack Silver is included in the four-page documentation. You will not, I suspect, know more about Gilels’ way with these concertos than you did before, but you can be assured that he is on magnificent form in both works, and is given the classiest of support.

Jonathan Woolf



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