BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44 (ed. Siloti) – Emil Gilels, p./ Halle Orch./ Sir John Barbirolli (Beethoven)/ London Phil. Orch./ Kirill Kondrashin (Tchaikovsky) – ICA Classics ICAC 5032, 71:37 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Two exquisite examples of the playing of Russian pianist Emil Gilels (1916-1985) exude a patrician élan and chiseled taste, both in the Beethoven G Major Concerto (13 September 1966) and Tchaikovsky G Major Concerto (23 February 1959). The Beethoven G Major became something of a calling-card for Gilels, his having recorded it for EMI, alternatively with Leopold Ludwig and George Szell. There is also a Melodiya-based reading from Russia with Kurt Sanderling. From the opening piano entry, Gilels provides a searing, searching performance, with the other rough-hewn, muscular first-movement cadenza by Beethoven generally ignored by practicing virtuosi. The Usher Hall audience quickly grasps the authority of the poetically virile rendition offered them, and an aura of rapt silence surrounds the performers until the final chords of the Rondo: Vivace. The close miking of the Halle woodwinds does much to augment the sonic definition of this genial collaboration. The second movement Andante con moto, the famous dialogue of “Orpheus and the Furies,” basks in an expansive, deliberately measured pace, a sure-fire dramatic approach to the brilliant colors of the third movement.
Tchaikovsky’s 1880 G Major Concerto had an uneasy birth, its having been severely criticized by Nikolai Rubinstein for its episodic structure in movements one and two.
Tchaikovsky authorized Sergei Taneyev and Alexander Siloti to make what Tchaikovsky meant to be moderate cuts in the score, but Siloti felt compelled to excise vast portions, especially in the second movement’s use of violin and cello, which he dubbed “a poor man’s triple concerto.” Gilels always played the 1897 Siloti edition, so it becomes a moot point to complain that the lovely scoring for the cello, piano, and violin in the Andante con moto often sings with surpassing beauty which in the truncated form can only be surmised. The flamboyant character of the piece, which Tchaikovsky virtually conceived for pleasure and his own restless urge to creativity, gushes forth in this performance, and Kondrashin has his LPO in fine Slavic fettle. Insofar as the Beethoven Concerto reveals the thoughtful, passionate wizard in Gilels, the Tchaikovsky unleashes the firebrand who can just as easily confide tender intimacies in his native colors. Even for a studio-conceived performance, the Tchaikovsky emanates an electric current that warrants repeated hearings.
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