When this recording of the Appassionata was first released in 1974, it was greeted with almost unanimous acclaim. It was a revelation to me personally because it was the first time that I actually realised how the piano could be played. With the Waldstein, the Appassionata is one the towering works of Beethoven's middle period.
The Les Adieux is either the final or next to final sonata of that period, depending on whether or not you think of the next after the Les Adieux, no. 27 Opus 90, as the first of the final "late" period of the composer's Piano Sonatas.
All of the three are difficult to play with some passages in the Waldstein being next to impossible on a modern piano. Suffice it to say that Gilels' playing is superb, almost beyond belief at times. Witness the final coda of the Appassionata, those fortissimo chords followed by the very rapid chords are miraculously played.
However, I can imagine that some might find the sheer sense of control, and particularly rhythmic control, and discipline that Gilels brings less attractive than the more frenetic Richter, Serkin or any number of more volatile readings.
With Gilels we are more in the realms of viewing these great compositions from an architectural point of view, so sound is his sense of structure. There is a tremendous sense of security and even predicatability here. For me, that is intensely satisfying and makes the impact of the music something that goes way beyond the pianistic achievement.
It is, of course, a terrible pity that Gilels died before finishing the whole series. He had recorded most of the sonatas and the outstanding ommission is the very last one, opus 111. That's bad enough, but when I read in Richter's notes that Gilels, with whom he had a longstanding and very difficult relationship, died as a result of a medical mishap in Moscow, the pity turns to a tragedy. Gilels was due to complete the series within a few months of his death in time for his 70th birthday in October 1986 - he died in October 1985. My question is - is this true?
Nonetheless, whatever one's preference is in terms of an approach to Beethoven's piano works, give this disc a shot. I think it is a classic.