ICA Classics – Emil Gilels plays Beethoven and Tchaikovsky with Barbirolli and Kondrashin

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Piano Concerto No.2 in G, Op.44 [Siloti version]

Emil Gilels (piano)

Hallé Orchestra
Sir John Barbirolli [Beethoven]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kirill Kondrashin

Beethoven recorded 13 September 1966 in Usher Hall, Edinburgh; Tchaikovsky on 23 February 1959 in BBC Maida Vale Studios, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2011
Duration: 72 minutes



The opening of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto is profound in its utterance, Emil Gilels looking deeply into the piano’s work-initiating solo. The response from the Hallé and John Barbirolli is expressive and forthright. Thus the tone is set for a measured and lyrical account of the first movement of Beethoven’s greatest piano concerto. Gilels was no stranger to this work – there are studio-recorded versions conducted by Leopold Ludwig and George Szell and at least a couple of other concert tapings (one with Kurt Masur and one with Kurt Sanderling). Under Barbirolli’s benevolent conducting Gilels gives an aristocratic and refined reading, not without the odd awkwardness or ‘splash’ but rich in its humanity and poetry. Typically in the first movement Gilels plays the lesser-used of Beethoven’s two cadenzas (the one that Alfred Brendel also preferred). It’s always good to hear this ‘alternative’. The central Andante features gruff, hectoring strings gradually being quelled by Gilels’s pacifist pleadings – really rather special – and the finale sparkles with many delightful runs, Gilels having no truck with speed for its own sake.

The Tchaikovsky uses Siloti’s butchered and emendated version, which cuts the slow movement by half and reduces the solos for violin and cello therein to stooges. In his booklet note, Jeremy Siepmann comments that Tchaikovsky gave his consent to Siloti’s re-working; maybe so, but my understanding is that he loathed what Siloti then did. Fortunately, the work as Tchaikovsky grandly conceived it is now back in fashion and more favoured by pianists than the Siloti. It’s academic really, for Gilels always played it thus, as did most pianists of his generation. In any case he gives a fiery and fantastical performance, notably for his storytelling quiet playing and emotional cadenzas. The slow movement, such as it is, opens with one of those soulful phrases that Tchaikovsky was so personal about. Gilels drawing-room unfolding of the lengthy melody that follows is the epitome of intimacy; and when the string-players turn up, they make an interactive trio. Gilels brings poise to the finale – as he would later with Maazel (studio) and Svetlanov (live) – enjoying its liveliness and folksong; plenty of glitter but not neglectful of quieter dynamics. In what seems a recording for the BBC without audience, Kirill Kondrashin persuades the London Philharmonic to some appropriate keen and pungent playing.

The mono sound in both works is a little restricted and colourless, but there is brightness, presence and uncontaminated depth, and the balance is good.

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