Recorded: St. John’s, Smith Square, London, 15 October 1984 (Scarlatti, Debussy)
Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, 22 April 1957 (Beethoven, Scriabin, Prokofiev)
This CD contains some of the first and last recordings the great Russian pianist Emil Gilels (1916-1985) made for the BBC. The lunchtime concert at the church of St. John's, in Smith Square, London on 15 October 1984 was to be his last performance in London.
Gilels liked to play a selection of Scarlatti's sonatas - what he referred to as 'a bouquet'. He included five of them on his first BBC Legends CD (BBCL40152) from his April 1957 BBC studio recording. Here we have another 7 Scarlatti sonatas recorded in excellent stereo.
Gilels first performed Debussy's 'Pour le Piano' in December 1953 only playing it a few times. After the mid 1950s, he did not play it again until the end of May 1984, five months prior to this stereo live concert. When referring to this concert Nicholas Kenyon wrote of Gilels performance of 'Pour le Piano'; 'But this is… more than the sheer creation of sound. For every wonderfully contrived sound reflects a conviction about the music: it is a total fusion of composer and interpreter that tells us for a few exalting moments, that the music can only sound this way.'
Although he toured the UK for the first time at the end of 1952, Gilels did not record for the BBC until April 1957. Apart from the five sonatas by Scarlatti which were issued on BBCL 4015-2, we have here works by Beethoven, Scriabin and Prokofiev. As persuasive and pliant as his performance is here, it would appear that Gilels did not play this sonata again until he came to record it commercially in the studio in 1974. From Scriabin's ten Piano Sonatas, Gilels only played No.1 in the early 1950s, No.3 only in 1983-84, and No.4 in 1955-57. In this performance of No. 4, Gilels ability to combine great delicacy and enormous controlled power are ideal for this work. From Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas Gilels only played Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8.
“The Scarlatti, Debussy and Beethoven were recorded live in London in 1984, towards the end of Gilels's life; he's dazzling in the Russian repertoire captured in 1957. The later recital is magisterial, but he's struggling.” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2009 ****
“…Emil Gilels… in all his imperious and aristocratic glory. Seven Scarlatti sonatas show him in an inimitable if unfashionable mood, slow and romantically free in the repeated notes of the D minor Sonata, Kk141. His Debussy…sings and expands in a style far remote from a more classic French performing tradition...” Gramophone Magazine, January 2010
“The Scarlatti sonatas have a crystalline purity and breathtaking range of articulation, while the Beethoven conveys all the wholeness missing from the Waldstein, and the Scriabin musters exactly the obsessive intensity such highly wrought music demands.” The Guardian, 18th September 2009 *****