About this Recording
8.111112 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5 (Gieseking) (1939, 1934) (Concerto Recordings, Vol. 3)

Walter Gieseking (1895-1956)
Concerto Recordings, Vol. 3

Gieseking's father was a distinguished German doctor with a keen interest in entomology who travelled in France and Italy. As a result, his son Walter was born in Lyon, and spent the first sixteen years of his life in southern France and Italy. Although the young Gieseking played the piano from the age of four, he had no proper tuition until his family moved in 1911 to Hanover, where at the age of sixteen he became a pupil of Karl Leimer at the Hanover Conservatory, studying for three years, after which he had no further tuition. At the age of twenty Gieseking performed the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in six recitals. The First World War, however, interrupted the beginnings of his career, and it was not until 1920, when he was already 25, that he made his dbut in Berlin at the first of seven recitals in the city that season. Although he played music by Debussy and Ravel, composers with whom he would be associated throughout his life, Gieseking was hailed as 'the new Anton Rubinstein', a title which would hardly have been applied to the Gieseking of the 1950s by which time he was acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of the French impressionists.

Gieseking made his London dbut in 1923, his American dbut in 1926, and appeared in Paris for the first time in 1928. During the 1930s he spent much of his time touring Europe, the United States and South America. Although he was in America in 1939, he decided to return to Germany at the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war he played in Australia, Japan and South America, but was not able to return to the United States until 1953 owing to his wartime allegiances. In 1955 he embarked on a ten-month tour of America and in the autumn of 1956 undertook a series of continuing recording sessions for EMI in London, where he died at the end of the year.

Before the Second World War Gieseking's repertoire was a good deal wider than it became later. He played concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, piano sonatas by Scriabin, works by Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, and championed contemporary composers such as Busoni, Hindemith, Korngold, Krenek, Poulenc, Pfitzner, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, many of whom dedicated works to him. Gieseking became known for his wide palette of tone and dynamics. At his London dbut recital, where his programme included Bach's English Suite in D minor, Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 30, and Schumann's Waldscenen, Op. 82, one critic wrote, 'Mr Gieseking's skill is great enough in some ways and his pianissimo now and then becomes as nearly nothing as is possible to imagine The Bach was played with perfect clarity and his tone gradations here and in the Debussy pieces were masterly.'

This is the third and final CD of Gieseking's concerto recordings made during the 1930s. In 1932 he recorded the Liszt Concerto in E flat (Naxos 8.111111) as well as the Variations Symphoniques by Csar Franck (Naxos 8.111110). He also recorded concertos by Grieg (Naxos 8.111110) and Mozart (Naxos 8.111111), and in April 1937 recorded Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (Naxos 8.111111) in Berlin. Two years later he recorded more Beethoven, again in Berlin, and this time it was the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, with the Saxon State Orchestra and Karl Bhm. It was recorded in a single day on 3 January 1939 with the eight sides all issued from first or second takes. Gieseking's light-weight approach to Beethoven, which so suited the youthful Concerto No.1 in C major, also yields benefits in his recording of the Fourth Concerto. His reading is one of clarity and lucidity which is apt for the outer movements. It could be said, however, that there is a lack of gravity and pathos to the Andante con moto, one of Beethoven's most heartfelt movements. Overall though, this is a performance of moulded delicacy, the pianist's sensitivity palpable from the outset and mirrored by the orchestra and its conductor Karl Bhm. One drawback is the cadenza to the first movement. Although it is by Beethoven, it is not the one usually played and it sounds uncomfortable and somewhat incongruous in the company of Gieseking's otherwise elegant pianism. It is interesting to note that after hearing a rehearsal of Gieseking in Beethoven's Fourth Concerto shortly after the Second World War, the composer Michael Tippett wanted to write a piano concerto of his own in which once again the piano may sing.

Gieseking played Beethoven's Fourth Concerto in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Adrian Boult in February 1935. A critic wrote of this performance, 'Mr Walter Gieseking is the right pianist for Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. To speak of the precision and delicacy of his playing is to call attention to the part away from the whole, yet the chief feature of Mr Gieseking's playing is just that he gives one all the music, understood clearly, felt profoundly, and seen whole.'

The recording of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, 'Emperor', was made in Vienna in 1934. Gieseking was partnered by the illustrious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Bruno Walter. Although recorded over two days, the first movement on 10 September and the remaining two movements on the 11th of that year, all the sides were issued from first or second takes. Again, Gieseking's approach to the work is refreshing in that he scales down the rhetoric of the first movement; again, clarity is paramount and grand gestures are kept to a minimum. In the Adagio un poco mosso he eschews sentimentality and gives a fairly 'straight' reading, but the play between soloist and orchestra unfolds like a dialogue. The last movement can lumber heavily along in lesser hands, but Gieseking plays it with a spring in his step giving a true feeling of 6/8 rather than 3/4.

Gieseking recorded the two concertos again in June 1951 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Herbert von Karajan, and for a third time in September 1955 (in stereo) with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Alceo Galliera.

2006 Jonathan Summers


Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Recorded in Berlin, 3 January 1939
Mats.: CRX 95-102, Cat.: LX 847-850

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 'Emperor'
Recorded in Vienna, 10 and 11 September 1934
Mats.: CHAX 47-51; CHAX 53-56, Cat.: LX 342-346

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