The cover of this eight-disc EMI set proclaims Walter Gieseking to be the "Poet of the Piano," and perhaps he was when these recordings were made in the early '50s. Certainly, there's plenty of poetry in his playing here, with deep beauty in his touch, warm colors in his tone, and tremendous imagination in his interpretations. There's no denying that some of his performances are sublime. His noble Andante con moto from Beethoven's Fourth Concerto, his soaring Adagio cantabile from the same composer's "Pathétique" Sonata, and his rhapsodic Adagio from Grieg's Concerto are classics of recorded music, and, of course, Gieseking's recordings of Debussy and Ravel are considered by many older listeners to be virtually definitive.
Two generations later, while Gieseking may still be considered a poet of the piano, his technique may be found less than smoothly articulate. In difficult passages, the pianist drops many notes and slips on many more, thereby slurring lines and blurring harmonies. Try, as examples, his rushed and brutal account of the Presto agitato from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata or his sloppy and slippery reading of "Scarbo" from Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. Admittedly, most of Gieseking's performances here are exceptionally lovely, and clearly anyone with an interest in the great pianists of the twentieth century will want to carefully listen to them. But for younger listeners, the many missed notes may make it more work than it's worth. Though the sound is old and a bit dim, it is nevertheless quite vivid.