There is something inevitably touching about the latter years of a gigantic personality, technician and musician like Gilels. The present recital is taken from a performance in Italy right at the end of the pianist's life. It was a time when some of his stamina had been sapped by a few years of bad health.
In the recording studio Gilels was still able to turn out staggering and beautiful playing, witness late Beethoven on DG. However, he seems to have probably benefitted from the studio based luxury of being able to pace oneself and strive for perfection — technical and musical.
So what does this all mean. It means that in this beautiful concert Gilels is far from a Pollini or Michelangeli, technical giants, but my goodness he makes it up by turning in some of the most beautiful Scarlatti I have heard. The seven recorded here are utter perfection approaching the famous recorded performances of Grieg in term of sound, phrasing and general gorgeousness.
There are rocky moments in the outer moments of the Debussy but again the sense of unforced drama and the immaculate prasing, tonal control and peddling make the Sarabande a wonder to behold. The Schumann is taken a little cautiously and as result the playing is remarkably stable and in many ways as great as the rest. One feels though that Gilels's Etudes might have been quite different in concerts some years ago.
All in all, then, this is a marvellous tribute to one of the outstanding artists of the 20th century. It is the record of one who had overcome the physical and could play his instrument with an honesty and profundity that spoke directly to the listener and which never approached the pompous.
Sound is remarkably good given its live provenance and captures the Gilels sound very well indeed.Norman Duffy
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1 Piano Sonata in D minor, L. 422, K. 141 4:40
2 Piano Sonata in F major, L. 116, K. 518 4:59
3 Piano Sonata in D minor, L. 423, K. 32 3:04
4 Piano Sonata in F minor, L. 118, K. 466 5:01
5 Piano Sonata in A major, L. 395, K. 533 3:03
6 Piano Sonata in B minor, L. 449, K. 27 4:47
7 Piano Sonata in G major, L. 487, K. 125 2:25
Pour le piano
8 I. Prélude 4:06
9 II. Sarabande 5:16
10 III. Toccata 4:20
Symphonic Studies Op. 13
11 Thema. Andante 1:42
12 Etude I (Variation I). Un poco più vivo 1:07
13 Etude II (Variation II). Marcato il canto 4:01
14 Etude III. Vivace 1:16
15 Etude IV (Variation III). Allegro marcato 0:41
16 Etude V (Variation IV). Scherzando 1:18
17 Etude VI (Variation V) - Agitato 0:58
18 Etude VII (Variation VI) - Allegro molto 1:16
19 Etude VIII (Variation VII). Sempre marcatissimo 2:25
20 Etude IX. Presto possibile 0:37
21 Etude X (Variation VIII). Allegro con energia 1:19
22 Etude XI (Variation IX). Andante con espressione 3:09
23 Etude XII (Finale). Allegro brillante 6:50
Emil Gilels - p
Recorded at Chiesa di San Francesco, Locarno, Italia ; September 25, 1984