ICA Classics – Emil Gilels & Adrian Boult [Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 1 & 3]

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37

Emil Gilels (piano)

New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult

Recorded 1967 in Royal Festival Hall, London – on 10 July (No.1) and 13 July

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2011
Duration: 70 minutes



There’s much to enjoy here despite a few rough moments from Emil Gilels (1916-85). These are, after all, recordings documenting the thrills and spills of concert performance. A fine sense of expectation marks out Sir Adrian Boult’s conducting of the introduction to the C major Piano Concerto, dynamics agreeably terraced. Gilels’s nonchalant but vital first entry develops a magisterial sense of time and space as well as a fine liveliness between pianist and venerable maestro (Boult was 78 at the time). One can sense the ‘point of his stick’ sculpting the orchestral commentary but also feeding-in Gilels’s input. The first movement is weighty, lucid and beguiling of phrase, with a particularly characterful contribution from woodwinds. The cadenza is one of Beethoven’s shorter efforts for this work (he wrote three, this one a creation with echoes of Domenico Scarlatti, whose sonatas Gilels played with particular sympathy), although it would have been fun to have heard Gilels tackle the outsize example. With a profound slow movement and an exuberant finale, the ‘jazz’ episode flies by with dexterity and puckish wit, this is a really engaging and pleasurable performance.

Boult underlines the seriousness of the C minor Piano Concerto with a stately, rough-hewn and momentous exposition. Gilels’s response is gruff and declamatory. Moments of lyricism are sweet by comparison. Exchanges between piano and orchestra are voluble, Gilels refusing to manicure the music, Boult exposing some barbed expression. The cadenza is an outspoken corollary full of bold rhetoric; the return of the orchestra mysterious. Following a slow movement of intense song, the finale (the too-long gap before it might usefully have been closed-up) is daringly swift, too much so as some braking is needed, but poetic contrasts are well made, and Gilels finds an armoury of touch, and he flourishes the brief cadenza. The coda, potentially Beethoven at his most jocose, is here determined rather than good-humoured. Still, it’s a view, and certainly in-keeping with the interpretation as a whole.

Despite conscientious re-mastering, the recording is only decent enough, being somewhat imbalanced at times and with some of the pitching suspect (due to a stretched tape, one imagines). But no matter: these are thoroughly enlivening performances emphasising Beethoven the (unvarnished) Romantic and documenting Gilels’s muscular and sensitive approach (some of his runs really glisten) and Boult’s great skills at accompanying. Gilels and Boult collaborated again the following year in concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky with the LSO – what chance that they too were recorded?

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