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Thread: Gilels Beethoven, best recordings?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default Gilels Beethoven, best recordings?

    I have seen a lot of people rank Emil Gilels as a favorite Beethovenian pianist. I love Gilels’ playing generally, but I’ve never been captivated by his Beethoven. What I’ve heard is the Les Adieux, the Waldstein, the Appassionata and concertos with Léopold Ludwig and none of it really connected with me. I’m listening now to his op.90 and I think it’s great. Gilels fans: What are some other highlights of his cycle for you?
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Feb-12-2020 at 00:15.

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    When Gilels' "Waldstein" sonata was initially released on LP, the old Penquin Guide wrote that it was the finest Waldstein since Artur Schnabel's. It's a favorite of mine. I'm surprised you don't like it. His "Les Adieux" works for me, too.

    I agree with you about Gilels' Op. 90 Sonata. Like his Waldstein, it's an analogue recording from the early 1970s, & isn't digital--like most of the rest of Gilels' DG cycle. If I'm not mistaken, it was made around the same time that Gilels recorded his two Brahms Piano Concertos with Eugen Jochum & the Berlin Philharmonic, so he's in vintage form. In my view, Gilels doesn't get the credit he deserves for his playing of the Op 90 sonata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARoXC9ITIco; nor for his Op. 101, either (see link below).

    Do you have the later Gilels/Ludwig EMI release or the original Testament label CD? I have owned both, and recall being disappointed with the sound quality on the 2nd EMI release. It's not very good, so I got rid of the CD. I don't know what EMI did to the sound but it diminished the quality of the performances for me. Which is why I try to link to the Testament CD whenever I recommend that recording (see links below): which I do mostly for the 4th Piano Concerto, and not so much for their 5th, where I prefer other pianists (such as Arrau/Haitink & Fischer/Furtwangler, R. Serkin/Kubelik or Ormandy or Bernstein, Kempff/Van Kampen, & Michelangeli/Giulini). IMO, Gilels has few equals in the 4th, and as a conductor, Ludwig is preferable to Szell, who, for some reason wasn't at his best with Gilels. For me, Szell's rather lacklustre, uninspired conducting on the Cleveland cycle all but ruined an otherwise first rate Beethoven PC set.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bql1jrNm_g
    https://testament.co.uk/emil-gilels.html
    https://www.amazon.com/Piano-Concert.../dp/B000003XJY

    There's been much talk over the years that Gilels' Beethoven was better live than in the studio. I think there's a good deal of truth to that, as he gets noticeably freer and more intensely inspired on the concert stage. If you do some side by side comparisons, I think you'll find that Gilels wasn't as careful or circumspect live, as he could be in the studio, and that can be very exciting:

    Here are two Beethoven works that Gilels played often in concert & excelled at:

    --15 Variations & Fugue, Op. 35 "Eroica": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ytDZclg3_I
    --32 Variations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfQsrf3cofA

    I would strongly recommend the following CD: https://www.amazon.com/Emil-Gilels-P...s=music&sr=1-2

    From Gilels' legendary 1969 Carnegie Hall Concert (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZAkCohFDSE):

    --"Moonlight" Sonata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shfN-n1iW4c
    (Which, interestingly, is a lot slower than his later DG studio recording of the "Moonlight": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSDUG4rtQFo.)

    --Live Moscow performances of the "Pathetique" & "Moonlight" Sonatas from 1968, via a Melodiya LP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1cr_ulYEZM

    --Piano Sonata no. 28, Op. 101:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsItzA34B1I
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eIyhkWN80E

    & Gilel's final concert before his untimely death in 1984, given at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where he played the Hammerklavier Sonata:

    https://open.spotify.com/album/2pksCzowOaEmxIiJ96cAQO

    https://www.amazon.com/Emil-Gilels-C...=music&sr=1-10
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Concert-Gre.../dp/B000T78C18
    http://pianistdiscography.com/discog...242&PIANIST=19

    Gilels was also remarkable in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas 30 & 31, which were his last studio recordings; yet, I've come to prefer Rudolf Serkin in his "unreleased" Sony recordings of nos. 30 & 31 (as well as Youra Guller & Solomon).

    No. 30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnA68jnSaSQ
    No. 31: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7hiNR4wxUs

    R. Serkin: no. 31: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo013NCfiz0
    Guller: no. 31: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tftJwS9Z6bQ

    The Serkin boxed set: https://www.amazon.com/Serkin-Unrele...s=music&sr=1-1
    --The 'heart' of the boxed set--nos. 30, 31, & 32, released individually: https://www.amazon.com/Serkin-Unrele...sr=1-1-catcorr
    Last edited by Josquin13; Feb-11-2020 at 20:48.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    ^Thanks for the informative post. Interesting that you mention the Penguin Guide comment comparing the Gilels Waldstein with the Schnabel. It's been some time since I've heard that Gilels Waldstein I mentioned, but at the time I remember thinking of how much better I thought the Schnabel was. Schnabel's recording had so much more verve, better pacing, etc., that the Gilels sounded clunky in comparison. It's one of the highlights of the great Schnabel set. I think I need to return to the Gilels now that the Schnabel recording is far from the forefront of my mind.

    As for the Gilels/Ludwig, I don't have it, but what I heard was a rip, I want to say of the Testament edition, but I could be wrong. Anyway I remember being struck by the bad sound. I remember being likewise unimpressed with the Szell set, which is a shame as I love Gilels, Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra all about equally. Perhaps you're right.

    Anyway your post may have led me in the right direction: perhaps it is the live recordings I'm looking for. I'll try and pick up that SWR recording on Hänssler, which appears to be pretty cheap. Looks like a great program. If I see a used copy of the disc with the Waldstein/Appassionata/Adieux I'll have to pick it up and give it another shot. It appears the full cycle is not in the cards, for now.

    Speaking of, what do you think of the full cycle? Is it one of the great Beethoven sonatas cycles, according to you, or not?

    PS. Thanks for the Serkin recs, I'll try and check this out too.

    PPS. I listened to some of the Kempff prewar recordings of the late Beethoven sonatas, on Apple music. I believe you have recommended these to me in the past. Anyway, very good stuff.

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    The primary tragedy is that there isn't a full cycle of Gilels in the Beethoven sonatas, the 32nd being the most glaring omission. Though there are other pianists I prefer in late Beethoven (Brendel's for one, Pollini for more of a thrill, and Kempff). The Gilels Waldstein is my favorite recorded interpretation of the sonata, so already I differ from OP there.

    If I could have one cycle it would probably be Kempff, but Gilels's would be in the running along with Brendel's if Gilels's were complete.
    Last edited by bz3; Feb-12-2020 at 01:14.

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    For Gilels, my favorite Beethoven sonatas of his were No. 18 and 19. Not only are they his best, but I think he played them better than anyone else.

    You may hear things differently, however, as I thought his recordings of the concertos with Szell of 1, 2, and 5 sounded great.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Gilels is definitely one of my top 5 pianists, maybe even top 2 along with Richter. His Beethoven cycle is by far my favorite alongside Annie Fischer. No pianist I know has such a flexible touch and tonal palette, coupled with depth of interpretation. I think his cycle is very consistent- can't really point out a specific one that stands above the others. The Hammerklavier is certainly impressive, no small part due to his unmatched power and agility. He also brings a lot of the lesser-known early/middle sonatas to life for me. It may be heresy to say, but I'm not as big on Beethoven's piano sonatas as most. An incredible body of work, no doubt, but not, IMO, of uniformly consistent quality or interest to me. I like guys like Gilels (and even Gould) who bring an element of daring and imagination to each sonata to liven up what I often hear as bland music. This is where Kempff and Arrau fail in Beethoven for me- things end up sounding the same and there is a lack of narrative.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bharbeke View Post
    For Gilels, my favorite Beethoven sonatas of his were No. 18 and 19. Not only are they his best, but I think he played them better than anyone else.

    You may hear things differently, however, as I thought his recordings of the concertos with Szell of 1, 2, and 5 sounded great.
    I really dislike those Szell recordings. It sounds like a major interpretive mismatch

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    The 4th and 5th concerti with Leopold Ludwig are brilliant- possibly my favorite version of the 4th.
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Feb-12-2020 at 14:17.

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    The Gilels Waldstein from that DG disc is my favorite as well. There are several Appassionatas I enjoy including Gilels, Richter, Lortie, O'Conor. I love my Lortie cycle.
    “Music makes you feel feelings. Words make you think thoughts. But a song can make you feel a thought.”

    - Yip Harburg

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I have a disc with the Appassionata, Pathetique and no 31. Must confess disappointed at first hearing but will listen again after hearing above comments.
    Last edited by DavidA; Feb-12-2020 at 15:52.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I listened to some of his Beethoven today to reassess. Just as amazing as ever. He makes even the warhorse sonatas sound brand new- just listen to the finale of the Moonlight! Intrepid, personal, and sumptuous playing. I can tell that some recordings don’t capture him in his technical prime, though. I must have been thinking of someone else when I praised his Hammerklavier, because he chooses some very stately tempi that sort of detract from it. But just listen to some of the textures he creates- the rondo of the Waldstein! How sublime! Playing that makes you want to melt into it and never come out.

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