An Essential Supplement to Gilels's Studio Recordings
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 07/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Brilliant has done us all a great favor by unearthing historic broadcast performances (and other material) from the radio archives of the former Soviet Union. Already available are superb Richter, Shafran and Oistrakh anthologies. Now we have two volumes dedicated to Gilels, unquestionably one of the great "keyboard lions" of the Twentieth Century.
The volume under consideration here, devoted entirely to Beethoven, is particularly valuable, insofar as the recordings are all relatively recent (1961-1984), the sonics are almost uniformly good (given the vagaries of live broadcast material), and the performances constitute an illuminating gloss on Gilels's studio recordings of this same repertoire--a Beethoven sonata cycle for DG left incomplete by the pianist's death, a concerto cycle with Szell and the Clevland Symphony for EMI, and earlier EMI traversals of concertos 4 & 5 with Ludwig and the Philharmonia. Whereas in the studio Gilels, even at his most insightful, could be too deliberate, in live performance he is altogether freer, more spontaneous, while missing none of the majesty he always evoked in Beethoven.
The concertos are a case in point. Taken down in 1976 from a cycle of live performances with the USSR State Symphony under Kurt Masur, these renditions convey a graciousness and poise not found, on the whole, in the more tight-fisted versions under Szell (the conductor may have been the culprit--a poor match, in any case). Yet the pianist is also disposed to take more interpretive and technical risks than in the studio; some pay off, others don't; but the creative tensions of these live occasions prove riveting regardless of occasional misfires. Masur and his USSR forces are clearly in their element as well; there is nothing routine or merely 'accompanimental' about the orchestral contribution. Szell and Ludwig get more refined playing from their respective orchestras in Gilels's studio versions, but Masur is more enlivening than either. The one exception for this listener would be Concerto #4, where, in an effort to emphasize the warmth and elegance of Beethoven's writing, the conductor inclines too much toward mellowness (the finale, in particular, tends to hang fire).
The sonata performances are simply tremendous. The "Hammerklavier", in particular, though somewhat more loose-jointed than Gilels's celebrated DG account, goes more directly to the heart of the matter. It is less Olympian, more humane, and also far more exciting. Much the same could be said of the other sonatas in this anthology. In live performance Gilels's Beethoven tends toward the incendiary, even if that virtually guarantees some technical slips (which Gilels has a way of cleverly concealing--I have rarely heard a pianist so effective at "damage control"!). Some listeners may find such occasional finger faults and dropped notes irritating on repetition; that caveat aside, however, this box contains some of the most brilliant performances you are likely to hear of these evergreen masterpieces.
Who then should purchase this set? Economy-minded neophytes should probably look elsewhere for "standard recommendations" in this repertoire (I would suggest Kempff or Ashkenazy for the sonatas and Fleisher-Szell or Kempff-van Kempen for the concertos). For those who already know this music inside out, and who may already cherish Gilels's studio versions of these works, this box is an essential supplement made all the more attractive by being surprisingly well recorded (for Russian archive material), decently presented, and very inexpensive. Strongly recommended."
Virtuosity to Spare
J. Grant | North Carolina, USA | 01/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've never been a big Masur fan, so I was not expecting too much from these concertos. But I must say that he had the USSR SO in fine form. It goes without saying that Gilels' performance is excellent, as usual. I really must rank this set of the concertos pretty close to my favorites - Fleisher/Szell, Kovacevich/Davis, Kempff/Paul Van Kempen, either of Arrau's & Katchen/Gamba. As for the sonatas, I've always liked the way Gilels played them, especially the "name" sonatas, and these certainly do not disappoint. As the other reviewers have stated, you must hear this Appassionata. The thing that bugs me the most about this set is not so much the sound, which is not bad considering the source, but some jackass that waits for all of the quiet pianissimo parts to cough. It just makes me want to strangle him, but I've gotten used to it (like Richter's Sophia Recital during Pictures at an Exhibition), and I just concentrate on all the wonderful piano playing by one of the best artists of last century. Highly Recommended."
Ryan Kouroukis | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 06/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've always known Gilels to be a Master, but never really got into his studio Beethoven Sonata recordings, the DG sound was awfully dry for me and the readings also drier than many I've heard (than say Annie Fischer or Schnabel for instance).
When I saw this set some out, I jumped on it because they were all live! And I know Gilels turnes into another person when he plays live. The sonatas are so much better than his studio recordings, BUT the concerto's with Masur blew my mind!!! Gilels is like a forest fire destroying everythings in its path! Never in all my comparisons heard such fire, verve, power and force in these concertos! Blazing Wizardry!
The only thing to mention is that the sound on these live recordings vary from: very very good ---> good ---> almost poor.
Nevertheless, an absolute must for all Gilels fans and Beethoven fans likewise...screw the sound when you got performances like these!