If you have been looking for a cheap set of the Beethoven piano concertos, then look no further than this excellent pair of double CD issues in EMI's Forte series.
Emil Gilels' untimely death a decade or so back prevented his finishing his extended Beethoven sonata cycle for DG; fortunately, he had already recorded the concertos, in the late 1960s, for EMI, now remastered for CD.
Although invariably overshadowed by his great Soviet contemporary, Sviatoslav Richter, Gilels was, in his own right, one of this century's great keyboard artists. His aristocratic, almost patrician poise was allied to a masterly technique, a keen intellect and a humanity often missing in other pianists.
Gilels is simply superb in every one of the five concertos, from the classical elegance of the first two, to the Apollonian splendour of the Fourth and the imperial grandeur of the "Emperor".
Georg Szell had, by the time of these recordings, honed the Cleveland Orchestra into one of the great ensembles and their contribution to these recordings is everything one could hope for.
The couplings in the second set are three of the "lesser" sets of piano variations by Beethoven, two of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances and – perhaps the clincher – one of the great Dvořák Eighths on record, which really merits a review all to itself.
Let me rephrase my opening sentence: you'd be hard put to find a finer Beethoven concerto cycle at any price.
Copyright © 1997, Deryk Barker