Emil Gilels

Beethoven: Piano Concerto Nos 4 & 5

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Way back during the Cold War, it was always devastating to the prestige of the West when the USSR would let one of its artists out of the country. These days, we can no longer imagine what it must have been like when a closed and repressive society sent one of its artists on tours outside the USSR. But in those days, for the West to discover that a closed and repressive society was capable not only of artistic achievement but of artistic achievements that surpassed anything the West had to offer was a sobering, indeed frightening proposition. How could the USSR turn out a pianist like Emil Gilels, a player with a superhuman technique and a very human soulfulness, a pianist with passionate intensity and ardent individualism? And since they could, what did this mean to the West, where superhuman technique seemed irrevocably fused with inhuman austerity, and passionate intensity seemed irreversibly tied to unrestrained individualism? Whatever it meant, there was no denying the reality of the situation. As these stupendous 1957 recordings of Beethoven's G major and E flat major piano concertos amply demonstrate, Gilels was a pianist whose commanding artistry and consummate virtuosity far exceeded any Western player's. Accompanied by Leopold Ludwig leading London's Philharmonia Orchestra, Gilels' vision of Beethoven as the embodiment of all that is heroic and humane in music is utterly compelling and easily as fine as the greatest recordings of either piece ever made. EMI's clean remastering of its own warm and deep stereo sound rivals the best recorded sound.

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