BBC Legends – Emil Gilels [Scarlatti, Debussy, Beethoven, Scriabin & Prokofiev]

0 of 5 stars

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonatas – in D minor, Kk141; in F, Kk518; in D minor, Kk32; in F minor, Kk466; in A, Kk533; in B minor, Kk27; in G, Kk125
Pour le piano
Images – Book I: Reflets dans l’eau
Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, Op.90
Piano Sonata No.4 in F sharp, Op.30
Visions fugitives, Op.22 [selection]
Piano Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.28

Emil Gilels (piano)

Scarlatti and Debussy recorded 15 October 1984 in St John’s, Smith Square, London; remainder recorded 22 April 1957 in Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2009
BBCL 4261-2
Duration: 80 minutes



Amazing to register that with this BBC Legends release, in September 2009, that Emil Gilels has been dead twenty-four years! The Scarlatti and Debussy items formed a BBC Lunchtime Concert, one of those Monday affairs that used to grace St John’s, Smith Square, but which then gravitated to Wigmore Hall. The memory of this recital (broadcast live) was that Gilels was in superb form – and so it proves.

If Gilels’s playing of seven sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti was somewhat unexpected in terms of repertoire, then his unfolding of them was hypnotic, sparkling as required, but with a depth of expression, really quite Romantic, that brought real substance to these miraculous pieces that can sometimes, however brilliantly played, seem rather skittish. Gilels’s eloquence, not least in Kk27, which is sublime, and his searching, opens up the possibilities of this music in the most rewarding way.

Debussy’s Pour le piano is given a trenchant and sensitive outing, the opening ‘Prélude’ no excuse for rapid-fire playing, rather it is an intense traversal, finding expression rather than glib fleetness; the following ‘Sarabande’ melts the heart and touches nerves; the closing ‘Toccata’, once again, trades display for articulate shaping, Gilels caressing the music (touch and sonority very important to him) and such love continues in what was an encore on the day, a vivid realisation of ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, music all too easily ‘softened’ to pastel shades but here given a convincing edge.

The remaining performances, in decent-enough mono sound from 1957 (the 1984 taping is in excellent stereo), includes volatile and unsentimental Beethoven, bewitching and radical Scriabin, and Prokofiev at his pithiest and most extrovert, Gilels the master of all that he surveyed. A corker of a release.

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