Emil Gilels Live in Moscow, Vol. 2 (1979 & 1983/2009)

by | Dec 28, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Emil Gilels Live in Moscow, Vol. 2 (1979 & 1983/2009)

Program: MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595–two performances; Concerto for 2 Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365
Performers: Emil Gilels, piano/Elena Gilels, piano/USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov
Studio: VAI DVD 4467
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 98 minutes
Rating: ****

We have the rare privilege of two grand interpretations of Mozart’s last piano concerto as performed by Russian pianist Emil Gilels (1916-1985), both with the same conductor but from four years apart: the first (1979) from Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow; the second (1983) from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. That Gilels remained a devoted Mozart interpreter finds validation in some 35 Mozart recordings of concertos, solo sonatas and variations, and various chamber pieces.

What most dominates the 1979 B-flat Concerto are the deliberately slow tempos, the grand arch of the musical line, and the meticulous attention to lyrical detail, as if Gilels and Ovchinnikov meant to stress the work’s valedictory affect. The camera lingers for the opening tuttis on Ochinnikov, whose minimal gestures elicit sweet response from his orchestra. Long shots place Ovchinnikov and Gilels in dramatic relief as the concerto progresses in a most intimate style, as if we were an omniscient spectator to a wonderful dialogue. Gilels lingers every phrase, especially as Mozart utilizes an antiphonal series of passages that ring with dolce or espessivo sentiments. The same grand leisure applies to the cadenza, in which the pearly trills assume a chandelier quality, glistening in space. The Larghetto becomes even more romantically rarified, if possible, perhaps because we sense the approaching mortality behind all this polished sophistication. Gilels’ parlando application of the main melody invests the line with a special enchantment, the camera backing away from his trill into the waiting strings and woodwinds. If the final Allegro can be a lullaby with scherzando aspirations, Gilels makes it so. Gilels applies a liquid long line to the various runs, without sacrificing any of the intense nuance he brings to the individual note. A brilliant flourish concludes a perfect performance, given its individualism of tempo.

The Concerto for 2  Pianos  (1983) occupies most of the Grand Hall stage; Elena Gilels left, with the first piano part, and her father right, just before the cellos. The Russian penchant for heavy accents in Mozart has not intruded upon Ovchinnikov’s lithe sensibilities, and this performance enjoys a seamless presence. Light textures and deft pianism from Elena guarantee an equality of the parts, which more than not smoke with Mannheim rockets and bravura embellishments. One striking shot in the last movement captures all three participants in simultaneous harmonious profile, making Mozart a glorious enterprise. This camera angle repeats, happily, in the final cadenza. The camaraderie of principals proves infectious to players and audience alike, who revel in Mozart’s grand design that he and sister Nannerl must have executed with similar familial aplomb.

No preliminaries, and we are in thrall to the magisterial Ovchinnikov introduction to the 1983 Concerto in B-flat Major, perhaps the last time Gilels will perform it. A dire intensity informs the string line, with especially pregnant pauses in the melodic contour. Gilels does not so much play the piano as enact a choreographed ballet for hands and keyboard. The flute and his filigree merge in pearly affect, then the string pizzicati and Gilels ascend to new heights. The distant shots of the orchestra and Gilels provide a statuesque portrait for the ages, then the camera zooms in for the key change that marks Mozart’s development section, pearly play for the gods. A degree of shadow intrudes into the images of Gilels, but we must not read into this too deeply. The cadenza surprises in its fleet flexibility of tone and dynamics, beautifully pedaled by the Russian Gieseking. Gilels and then the French horn announce the exquisite Larghetto, a transposed from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet about the stars set here on earth. Three lifts of his right hand before the actual touch to produce the final Allegro, a musical-box rendition of this gentle rondo. Soulful woodwinds answer, along with impassioned strings. Nothing effete or enervated in Gilels’ last cadenza, arched and strong. The delicacy of the timbres and dynamics converts the last pages of the movement to a semblance of magic carpet, the tapestry a direct transport to Heaven’s banquet.

–Gary Lemco

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