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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Volume two in this series keeps up the good work established by the first. As before, we have a programmatically cogent compilation which therefore has had to range widely over the first seventeen years of Gilels’ recording career. The result is an all-Russian disc that gives us his thoughts on three major sonatas. He certainly played the G minor Medtner sonata and the Glazunov E minor a fair bit in the early 1950s; and performances of the second Prokofiev sonata, studio and live, seem to be confined—as far as I know—to 1951. So the big statements on this disc all seem to represent a particular focus of interest at the time.

Medtner’s sonata is marvellously contoured, very poetic, maybe in its own way comparable to Moiseiwitsch’s playing of the composer’s music. The recording wasn’t good for its time. Glazunov’s E minor sonata is despatched with elegance and lyric distinction but also a great reserve of dynamism as well. His marshalling of the peaks and troughs of the second movement Scherzo is a mini master class in itself though you will be thrilled by the huge dynamic curve he sculpts in the finale.

Prokofiev, some of whose sonatas he appeared to appropriate and ‘own’ is represented by the Second. Gilels brings tremendous clarity to it, whilst simultaneously managing to extract a full panoply of tense lyricism. He conjures up pungent sound worlds with immediate strength, as in the same sonata’s finale—brilliant, crisp and clear.

The morceaux are no less a part of a musician’s arsenal and they are, in the main, heard first in the running order. The Tchaikovsky is lovely, though there’s a bit of ingrained wow on the disc. His Rachmaninoff Prelude is brasher and bigger than his later way with the music, when he took it more cautiously. The result is that finer precision suffers a little in this truly galvanising exercise, but few will mind when the results are so vital.

Excellently transferred, as one would expect, this is another well curated selection.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

By the time Emil Gilels was allowed to appear in the Western world, he was into his thirties and had the task of finding a place among a new generation of pianists bristling with virtuosity. Born in 1937, the twelve year old child prodigy was shielded from premature exposure until in his late teens, when he was allowed to enter major competitions that pointed to a special talent.. Not a showman, either personally or in his playing, his response to Prokofiev’s Second Piano Sonata is evidence of a thoughtful musicianship rather than flashy brilliance. This second disc of his early recordings takes us through the 78 era and as far as the early 1950’s when Melodiya began issuing LPs. In order of release the first tracks—the Fifth of Rachmaninov’s Ten Preludes and the March from Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges—come from 1937 when the impetuous twenty-one-year-old showed his fingers were far from infallible. Three years later, in Tchaikovsky’s Chant sans paroles and Rachmaninov’s first of the Etudes-tableaux, he is more accurate, and by the time we reach the Glazunov Sonata we have a mature and considered performer. The scherzo is a fine display of agility, and there is an outflow of vivacity in the finale. Medtner’s Third Sonata takes us through to 1954, and a composer that had been banned in the Stalin era. When that ended with the dictator’s death, Gilels championed his name more in words than performances. Yet this account is the most imposing part of the release, the shape, pacing and shading probably the best Medtner we have on disc. I recall the surfaces of those Russian discs when they were issued and were so rough you feared they would eradicate your stylus. So I am profoundly grateful for restoration of such painstaking excellence.

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