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The greatest of Emil Gilels’ American appearances came in the 1960s – the same decade that saw Sviatoslav Richter tour to the US three times (1960, 1965 and 1970). Although they were very different artists, Gilels felt he was competing with Richter for the affections of the American audience, a fact borne out by this remarkable recital recording from Gilels’ 1964 tour.

Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata was one of his calling cards and this performance is even greater than his splendid studio version for DG recorded in 1972. In the first movement, he wisely eschews any attempt to plumb serious depths. Its lively, energetic mood is presented with a degree of reserve that makes the pianist’s power and virtuosity seem all the more staggering. The second movement is appropriately dreamy and pensive, while the finale is a tour de force. The Rondo’s allegretto moderato grows inexorably into a hymn of immeasurable joy. The prestissimo coda astonishes with its glissando octaves in alternating hands and the extraordinary way in which Gilels, with a single hand, simultaneously plays the melody and its accompanying trill.

Chopin’s Variations on ‘La ci darem mano’ are delivered with wit and delicacy. Prokofiev’s Sonata No 3 is a tectonic plate-shifting eruption, while six of the composer’s Visions fugitives demonstrate Gilels’ ability to create exquisite textures and timbres through precisely weighted chords and imaginative pedalling. The colours of French impressionism are represented by Book I of Debussy’s Images and Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso. The encores include two Gilels specialities: a spectacular ‘Danse russe’ from Stravinsky’s Trois movements de Petrouchka; and an ineffably lovely Bach-Siloti Prelude in B minor.

STEPHEN WIGLER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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