Emil Gilels

Beethoven: Klavier Sonaten

(CD - Deutsche Grammophon #453221)

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Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly -- very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and -- horror vacui -- the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year. In performance after performance, one marvels at Gilels' virtuosity, his expressivity, and his sheer joy in music-making. But most of all, it is through the intensity of Gilels' interpretations, in the way he finds the depths of the Largos and reaches the heights of the Allegro vivaces, in the way he seems to so thoroughly understand and completely identify with Beethoven's music, that we understand it in a new and better way ourselves. While obviously not the only Beethoven piano sonata set one should have on the shelf, any Beethoven collection without Gilels is a poorer Beethoven collection. From high stereo to early digital, Deutsche Grammophon's sound is consistently translucent.

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