Günter Wand, the distinguished German conductor, and Emil Gilels, the renowned Russian pianist, only played together on one occasion, and, needless to say, they played Beethoven. Wand, although perhaps best known in America for his Bruckner, was in Europe and Japan also known for his Beethoven, while Gilels, of course, was internationally celebrated for his Beethoven. The question is: whose Beethoven did they play on December 13, 1974, Wand's or Gilels'?
The answer is, amazingly enough, both. Wisely, Wand and Gilels chose to play the "Emperor," the noblest Beethoven piano concerto of them all. Not only is it the most virtuosic, it is the most symphonic; not only the grandest, but the most inward; not only the most sublime, but the most human. And although Gilels drops more notes than one would have expected from a celebrated virtuoso, he and Wand are as one in their performance and interpretation, neither seeking to upstage the other but rather working together to bring the good news of Beethoven's music to the world. Working with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester in the concerto and in the Coriolan and Fidelio overtures that fill out the disc, Wand's Beethoven, like Gilels', is dramatic, lyrical, and epic, but most of all heroic. While the Kölner Orchester is no more than a provincial German radio orchestra, the conductor, the soloist, and the music bring out the best and deepest in their playing, resulting in a performance that may be less refined than the Berlin Philharmonic, but is perhaps more heartwarming. Profil's remastered broadcast sound is more than adequate, if less than resplendent.