BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2; MOZART: Rondo in D Major for Piano and Orch.; 10 Variations on a Theme by Gluck – Emil Gilels, p./ Moscow Philharmonic Orch./ Kiril Kondrashin/ Leningrad Philharmonic/Neeme Jarvi (Mozart) – Doremi mono

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; MOZART: Rondo in D Major for Piano and Orch., K. 382; 10 Variations in G Major on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455 – Emil Gilels, p./ Moscow Philharmonic Orch./ Kiril Kondrashin/ Leningrad Philharmonic/Neeme Jarvi (Mozart) – Doremi mono DHR-8000, 75:00 ****:

Russian piano virtuoso Emil Gilels (1916-1985) made two commercial inscriptions of the Brahms B-flat Major Piano Concerto, those with Eugen Jochum for DGG and with Fritz Reiner for RCA. The latter performance (2 February 1958) set a powerful standard of musical realization for this muscular and poetic work. The appearance on Doremi of his collaboration with Kiril Kondrashin from Moscow (6 February 1972) allows us to hear the gentle giant of the keyboard in a studied, relatively linear performance, his accent on the huge melodic arches that permeate the score, occasionally infiltrated by massive explosions of “symphonic” color. The tenth installment of the “Emil Gilels Legacy” from Jacob Harnoy’s Doremi label, this reissue provides very good monaural sound for the fluid interchange of what often becomes a keyboard obbligato for a grand study by Brahms in sonata-form. Gilels appears in grand spirits, brandishing a huge technique and tone, and a touch that can wax delicate or leonine, at will. Except for the last movement, Allegretto grazioso, this Moscow interpretation proves generally broader in tempo than the Reiner version.

The D Minor Scherzo enjoys a fine-honed luster as well as vivid momentum that display Kondrashin’s capacity for Brahmsian grandeur on a scale that matches the Gilels association with veteran Brahms conductor Eugen Jochum.  If that conductor may appear to some as relatively ponderous, the approach by Kondrashin – rife with nervous tension – will prove a marvelous tonic that still conveys – despite a tentative French horn passage or two – virile girth in all aspects of the score.  The lovely Andante features an uncredited first cellist, whereas the Reiner claims the unerring, suave accuracy of Janos Starker. But even here, the Gilels who can project a sensuous, introspective dream-vision as effectively as he can raise emotional storms, proves a supple and gratifying artist.  When the harmonic motion all but stops, we can savor Gilels’ thoughtful phrasing in individual tone-colors, searching through the mystery of creation. Finally, a gallant romp in free-but-happy bravura filigree for the finale, set at a brisk tempo and fiery brio that auditors may have heard when Gilels and Muti performed this epic concerto in Philadelphia.

The Mozart Variations on the Theme by Gluck “Unser dummer Pobel meint” stood proudly in Gilels’ active repertory, and there exists a live video of his performance in Moscow in 1970.  Mozart constructs – in Salzburg 28 January 1970 – ten variations in G Major as a grand improvisation on a comic moment from Gluck’s The Pilgrim from Mecca. We know an “orchestral” version of this music from Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4, Op. 61. Gilels asserts the pompous tune twice, forte, and then proceeds with Mozart’s at first predictable studies until Variation 4, where the spirit of gravity takes G Minor form. Mozart also shifts the metric pulse from duple to triple meter at nos. 3 and 10, having moved to his magnificent, penultimate Variation 9, a fusion of keyboard styles embracing Scarlatti and the much-admired J.S. Bach.

I first heard the 1782 Mozart Rondo in D, K. 382 on a classic recording with Edwin Fischer from the 1930s. A gay spirit marks this piece, an early composition for Vienna, since Mozart had been delighted to vacate Salzburg. Like Fischer’s gracious performance, Gilels’ too relishes the obvious wit and charm of the tune and its permutations, and Jarvi contributes his own plastic accompaniment to the buoyancy of effect. The ambiance of the collaboration (from Leningrad 17 January 1968) enjoys a striking presence, made even more delectable by Jarvi’s insistance on a lucidly transparent ensemble better known for its heavenly assaults from Mravinsky and Sanderling at this period in music history.

—Gary Lemco

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