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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost all he recorded for EMI, 17 Feb 2011
D. M. Ohara "Dan O'Hara" (Cleveland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Icon: Emil Gilels (Audio CD)
This Icon Box, which is excellent value for money, claims, not quite correctly, to contain all the recordings the great Russian pianist made for EMI. [For example, the 1966 London Schumann Nachtstucke, once on ASD 2483, is missing - apparently the rights belong to Melodya, which probably explains the absence.] All the items here were recorded between 1954 and 1972; in Paris, London, Cleveland and New York.

The repertoire here is somewhat limited, insofar as we have two complete cycles of the Beethoven concertos - the earlier made in Europe with different conductors between 1954 [No.3 in mono] and 1957 [4&5 in stereo]; and the latter in Cleveland with Szell in 1968. [Frankly, I greatly prefer the versions Szell recorded earlier with Leon Fleischer; because here soloist and conductor often fail - as in the Emperor's first movement - to find a convincing, unified view about tempo, leading to an episodic approach to a work which requires singleness of vision.] In addition there are three short sets of Beethoven variations, but no sonatas. There are the three Tchaikovsky concertos from 1972, and earlier [mono] versions of Rachmaninoff 3 and Saint-Saens 2. Solo works include a Mozart sonata, K570; Chopin's Funeral March sonata, and three of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 [1,5&24].

There is much to admire here: for me, the highlights are the earlier Beethoven 4 and 5, with Leopold Ludwig; the Saint-Saens, and the Shostakovich - truly stunning playing. The Rachmaninoff concerto gets a fairly laid-back performance, rather introverted, but with beautiful, lapidary pianism. This is a performance quite unlike, for example, the better known and more highly-charged versions from Horowitz and Argerich. The emphasis here is on poetry rather than bravura; and it has its own validity. The Tchaikovsky 2nd [Siloti version] with Maazel conducting, by contrast, is pure bravura and as exciting as once could wish.

But this set leaves out [because recorded for other companies] many of the works for which Gilels is best known. There is no Scarlatti, Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Grieg, Brahms or Liszt here; no chamber music, no Beethoven sonatas. For those one must go to his earlier Russian and later recordings for DGG, and the small but excellent RCA and CBS legacy. Gilels also left many live performances; from London, Salzburg, Italy and elsewhere: and though these sometimes reveal a pianist who is not note-perfect, they often give a better, and more immediate picture of the great Lion of the Keyboard who will be familiar to those who heard him in the flesh.

So while it is good to have almost all his EMI tapings gathered together in a single bargain box, those interested in the pianist's wider repertoire will need to look elsewhere for works with which he is most closely associated; in particular the Brahms concertos and late solo works, the Beethoven sonatas, and his Schubert and Liszt sonatas and shorter works, including the incomparable Grieg Lyric Pieces,

But this set is not to be missed at the price, notwithstanding the Beethoven concerto duplications.
[Edited and expanded on 16 June 2011]
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Music Making!, 16 Mar 2011
J. Gibbons (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Icon: Emil Gilels (Audio CD)
Emil Gilels was one of the pianistic giants of the last century and this fine, and economical, boxed set of his EMI recordings is very welcome indeed.

Of the two sets of Beethoven piano included, that recorded as a cycle in Cleveland with George Szell is the finest. At the time of its first issue it was overshadowed by that of Barenboim and Klemperer which meant it didn't get its fair share of publicity. It is certainly one of the very finest complete cycles available. Gilels' playing combines great musical insight, technical virtuosity and wonderful lyricism. Szell and his fine Cleveland Orchestra accompany superbly. They form a wonderful partnership and it is sad they recorded so little together. Some little heard Beetoven variations, recorded during the same sessions, make a splendid filler.

The second set of Beethoven concertos - with a number of conductors and orchestras - is also very fine. Here the filler is a splendid performance of Mozart's piano sonata K570.

Some collectors may be put off by this duplication of repetoire but all the Beethoven concerto performances are of such high quality that their inclusion here is greatly to be welcomed.

The remaining three discs include all three of the Tchaikovky concertos in highly recommendable performances. Maazel and the New Philharmonia are fine partners. Also incuded are Rachmaninov's third concerto and Saint-Saens' second, three Shostakovich preludes and fugues, and an absolutely staggering performance of the Chopin 'funeral march' sonata.

The booklet contains an excellent essay on Gilels, and these particular performances, by Richard Osborne. The remastering is excellent and the set as a whole can be recommended without reservation.
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15 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent set!!!, 29 Sep 2010
This review is from: Icon: Emil Gilels (Audio CD)
Excellent set!!! Only the recording of Gilels plays Beethoven piano concerto # 5 (the "Emperor") with the Cleveland Orchestra under the conduction of George Szell itself, worth the price of the whole set. Recommended!
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