Walter Gieseking, Volume 3 = SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9; Kinderszenen, Op. 15; Schlummerlied from Albumblaetter, OP. 124, No. 16; Vogel als Prophet from Waldszenen, Op. 82, No. 7; CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60; SCRIABIN: Poeme in F-sharp Major, Op. 32, No. 1; Prelude in E Major, Op. 15, No. 4; BRAHMS: Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79 – Walter Gieseking, piano
Historical-Recordings HRCD-00048, 74:48 [www.historic-recordings.co.uk] ****:
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) dominated the international keyboard scene in music of the Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, but his acuity in much of the general Romantic repertory remains no less authoritative, given Gieseking’s penchant for fast tempos and chronic over-pedaling. Historic-Recordings generously resurrects the Schumann Gieseking inscribed for CBS in 1951 and 1955, beginning with the Carnaval (from ML 4772, 25-26 September 1951) that happily–unlike his traversals of Davidsbuendlertanze–do not sacrifice plastic form and poetry to torrential speed. This does not mean there aren’t the occasional smears or missed notes, but the limpid song in Schumann’s anagrams–his homage to the village of ASCH to the multifaceted characters of his literary imagination–proceed at fiery but delicate gaits that preserve the innate sensibility of spiritual repose. As presented in one continuous track, we cannot systematically back up and replay individual character pieces, but the charm of the whole beguiles in its consistent sweep and diaphanous flutter, the virtuosic and the flirtatious in thrilling panoply. The brilliant “Pause” takes us to a processional March of the Davids-Leaguers quite adumbrating Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev.
Collectors will recall that CBS ML 4540 once gave us both Schumann’s Kinderszenen (28 September 1951) and the Brahms Three Intermezzi, Op. 117. Gieseking favored the Wordsworthian paean to childhood, having also inscribed it for EMI, who issued it with the Piano Concerto under Karajan. Gieseking communicates the warm intimacy of the suite, The D Major “Pleading Child” enjoys a translucent detachment that evanesces into the air. “An Important Event” in A Major assumes mock-heroic proportions, and the following Traumerei in F makes a case that Debussy well knew his Schumann. The C Major Knight of the Rocking Horse begins gently but soon climbs some demonic heights in a manner D.H. Lawrence could appreciate. The most harmonically audacious piece, “Almost Too Serious” in G-sharp Minor, moves in dreamy twilight. Child Falling Asleep in E Minor provides us a nocturne of ravishing poise, the clarion individual notes hinting at that “select” tone intrinsic to the first movement of Fantasie, Op. 17. And it is through this child’s sleep that The Poet Speaks, perchance to dream of that consummation Blake would have labeled “Jerusalem.” As two postludes to the major suite we have the Schumann equivalent of Mendelssohn, Schummerlied (1 September 1955), recorded for CBS Philips, another liquid reverie; and the flitting suggestive movement, The Prophet-Bird, from Forest-Scenes. Its middle section plays in the manner of a chorale, ardent and a tad haunted.
Gieseking committed relatively few Chopin works to the recording studio. The Barcarolle (18 October 1956) offers, through its gondolier’s syntax, trills, and ostinati, an abundance of colors for Gieseking to demonstrate his infinite palette. Yet, there lingers a prosaic candor in the rendition, a severity that denies the piece its erotic ardor, despite the panache Gieseking affords every transition. Alternately precious and under-played, the piece refuses its own apotheosis, which can prove mesmerizing from Rubinstein and Moravec. At the faster tempos, Gieseking produces a color toccata, a preparation for Ravel’s Jeux d’eau or Debussy’s Feux d’artifice. From the same session Gieseking proffers the Poeme in F-sharp Major by Scriabin, a synthesis of all that Chopin might have been, dripping with the rite of spring. Evaporating dew or snowflakes might approximate the ephemeral alchemy of the E Major Prelude.
Finally, the two Brahms Rhapsodies that EMI Angel (20 June 1950) produced from the Kammersaal, Kongressshalle, Zurich (35027) as part of a two-LP set. Gieseking unleashes Herculean drama onto the B Minor, furiously dynamic without forcing a single percussive sound, and the middle section in B Major shimmers with pained loneliness. The other large single-movement work, the G Minor Rhapsody, belies its form by appealing to sonata-form even in the midst of its “molto passionate” indication. Gieseking could have taken the piece at a broader tempo, but he manages to infuse an interior mystery into its churning heats. Once more, we feel a kinship between the chromatic modulations here and the subliminal world of Mussorgsky. The meditative evocation of the Brahms “old bachelor” tragic sense remains, a testament to Gieseking’s extraordinary sympathy for this music.