Friday, July 26, 2019

Emil Gilels Plays Piano Sonatas

No. 317 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


Today’s blog and podcast features Soviet (Ukrainian) pianist Emil Gilels, one of the leading Soviet soloisys of his generation who had opportunities to travel to the West during the post-World War II/Iron Curtain era.

Indeed, Gilels was one of the first Soviet artists, along with David Oistrakh, allowed to travel and give concerts in the West. His American debut was in October 1955, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. His British debut was in 1952 at the Royal Albert Hall. Gilels made his Salzburg Festival debut in 1969 with a piano recital of Weber, Prokofiev and Beethoven at the Mozarteum, followed by a performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with George Szell and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gilels had an extensive repertoire, from baroque to late Romantic and 20th century classical composers. His interpretations of the central German-Austrian classics formed the core of his repertoire, in particular Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann; but he was equally illuminative with Scarlatti and 20th-century composers such as Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev.

Today’s podcast opens with a set of Scarlatti sonatas of varied tones and textures, captured live from a recital recorded by the BBC and issued under their Legends series.

Gilels was in the midst of completing a recording cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas for the German record company Deutsche Grammophon when he died unexpectedly in a hospital in Moscow. He did, however, leave several recordings of many of these sonatas, and two are featured thios week – one from the same BBC disc, the other from an early Melodiya recording.

The remaining selections thuis week are both from late 19th-early 20th century Russian composers; Alexander Scriabin’s Fourth piano sonata is one of his shortest. Written in a post-Romantic style, similar to Scriabin's other works of the time, its mood could be described as erotic.

A younger contemporary of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner wrote a substantial number of compositions, all of which include the piano. His works include fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces. His Tenth "Sonata-reminiscenza" in A minor, Op. 38, No. 1, commences a set of eight pieces entitled "Forgotten Melodies (First Cycle)". This single movement is one of Medtner's most poetic creations; as the title indicates, its character is nostalgic and wistful. This sonata closes this week’s podcast.

I  think you will love this music too

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