courtesy of Naxos of America
The latest keyboard artist to be anthologized on the Profil label is Russian pianist Emil Gilels. The Emil Gilels Edition, a box of thirteen CDs, was released this past April; and the recordings account for Gilels’ work between 1933 and 1963. Gilels began recording for major labels in the Fifties; and, when he died on October 14, 1985 he was in the process of recording the complete cycle of piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon.
The recordings in the box are probably products of Russian production, although I cannot say this with certainty, because it is difficult to come by useful track data for Profil collections. I do know that the first CD in the set consists of recordings that Gilels made in his twenties, between 1935 and 1941, prior to the Axis attack on the Soviet Union during World War II. These recordings present a bold young pianist, who is thoroughly fearless when it comes to taking on any technical demands. His approach to Robert Schumann manages to be technically sound and rhetorically wild at the same time; and he shows no fear in the face of music by Franz Liszt, represented on this CD by a wild and wooly fantasia on two of the themes from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 492 opera The Marriage of Figaro. (Liszt never completed the fantasia, so Gilels performed a completion by Ferruccio Busoni. My guess is that few will detect where Busoni picked up from where Liszt had left off.)
Considering the breadth of Gilels’ repertoire, it is a bit disappointing that the number of composers represented on the remaining twelve discs is relatively narrow. There is a generous amount of Johann Sebastian Bach, including transcriptions by Carl Tausig and Alexander Siloti, and two concerto performances. Tausig also shows up on a disc of Domenico Scarlatti with arrangements of two of the thirteen sonatas that Gilels’ plays on that CD. The repertoire then moves into the Classical period with generous attention to Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven, including all of the latter’s piano concertos. The final disc is devoted to Franz Schubert, coupling the D. 850 sonata in D major with a rather ghastly piano-and-orchestra arrangement by Dmitry Kabalevsky of the D. 940 fantasia in F minor, originally written for four hands on one keyboard.
The performances themselves tend to be variable across the full scope of this collection. Things are at their best when Gilels is playing trios with violinist Leonid Kogan and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. However, those selections can also be found in a five-CD box set released on the DOREMI label less than a year ago. Readers probably know that I found Profil to be a valuable resource when it came to historical recordings by Sviatoslav Richter; but I fear that, where Gilels is concerned, history is better served by other sources.