All the music on this 3-CD set is taken from Russian archive sources and appears not to have been issued previously. All of it seems to come from live concerts, and for many readers the deciding factor regarding purchase will likely not be the performances – they're very good to excellent – but the sound, which generally runs from mediocre to quite acceptable. The recording of the Prokofiev Second Sonata, though dating to 1951, has very good sound for its time. The performance is quite compelling too, competitive with some of the best efforts by Graffman, Glemser, Richter and others. However, the recording of the Third Sonata, from a January, 1984 concert, is less clear and has a clangorous, sort of hazy quality, but again the performance is fine. From that same concert comes the Scriabin Third Sonata and Five Preludes. Luckily these performances are splendid too. Actually Gilels' version of the Scriabin Third Sonata can rank with the fine renditions by Ashkenazy and Gould. Strange how Gilels seemed quite attuned to the very different styles of both Prokofiev and Scriabin.
The Prokofiev Eighth Sonata here dates to 1967 and also has a haziness about its sonic quality. There's a lot of audience noise too, mainly from coughs – it was taken from a January concert. But, once again, Gilels makes it worth hearing, as the performance is excellent, despite a few mistakes. He made a studio recording of the Prokofiev Eighth around this time and it appeared on an acclaimed Columbia/Melodiya LP. I would say that this live effort is nearly as good as that one, but the sound is a bit deficient.
The concert dates of the remainder of the Prokofiev material – a selection from the Visions Fugitives, the Toccata, and a transcription of the March from The Love for Three Oranges – are unknown. The sound isn't so good, but the Toccata is a scorching rendition and the Visions Fugitives are superbly played.
The Medtner Sonata, from January, 1954, is a fine version, probably as good, if memory serves, as Gilels' later studio recording for Melodiya (which was issued with the Glazunov Second Sonata), and the sound is quite good for 1954. Tchaikovsky's Six Morceaux and Glazunov's Second Sonata also get sensitive readings from Gilels, although the sound, also from unknown sources, is a little shrill and clattery.
The Rachmaninov material all dates from a December, 1977 concert, and the sound is reasonably good. Gilels' Vocalise is convincing enough but a little hard-edged and aggressive. He uses much the same approach in the famous C Sharp minor Prelude but it works nicely. Actually, Gilels treats Rachmaninov with less sentimentality than one often encounters, as most of the rest of his performances here divulge a somewhat straightforward but spirited approach. In the end, his Rachmaninov is highly individual and will prove mostly rewarding to the listener.
In sum, the performances on these discs are generally excellent and well worth purchase if you don't mind the sometimes mediocre sound.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings