This was, for a while, one of the glories of the mid 60s, a performance of Brahms’ titanic first Piano Concerto that presented a young pianist with immense musical and technical chops playing another young lion’s first major orchestral calling card, not to mention providing a stern audiophile test for systems at the time.
In this welcome reissue, Gelber’s playing remains a combination of thundering, wondrous power and seductive tonal beauty, alternating his moods magically (and not always entirely predictably) to achieve the greatest possible impact. The musical impact is enhanced by the orchestral accompaniment which, although the Munich Philharmonic was not the most polished ensemble, comes across with deep conviction and obvious admiration for the soloist.
It is also as a demonstration of the quality of mid 60s sound an extremely impressive document, its wide dynamic range on a large soundstage producing a stream of dazzling sound pictures. Whether the massed orchestral at the stormy opening of the first movement, the sexy swaying woodwinds in the slow movement, or the glorious pounding of the keyboard as Gelber strides through the emotional peaks and valleys of the finale, this is the kind of sound that made EMI a warmer, more human alternative to Decca. And it will still take all the volume the best systems can handle.
Both the performance and the recording of the Handel Variations are less spectacular, but still highly satisfying, with perhaps marginally more lovely piano sound, though less ability to handle the biggest climaxes. EMI have done a reasonable job of capturing the impact these recordings had when they were initially released, although true audiophiles might wish for more of the original analog subjective coloring.
– Laurence Vittes