MOZART / BEETHOVEN / LISZT: Piano Concertos
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Walter Gieseking (1895-1956)
Concerto Recordings, Vol. 2
Gieseking's father was a distinguished German doctor with akeen interest in entomology who travelled in France and Italy. As a result, his son Walter was born in Lyons, France, and spent the first 16 years of his lifein southern France and Italy. Although the young Gieseking played the pianofrom the age of four, he had no proper tuition until his family moved in 1911to Hanover, where at the age of sixteen he became a pupil of Karl Leimer at theHanover Conservatory, studying for three years, after which he had no furthertuition. At the age of twenty Gieseking performed the complete Beethoven pianosonatas in six recitals. World War I, however, interrupted the beginnings ofhis career, and it was not until 1920, when he was already 25, that he made hisdebut in Berlin at the first of seven recitals in the city that season.
Although he played music by Debussy and Ravel, composers with whom he would be associatedthroughout his life, Gieseking was hailed as 'the new Anton Rubinstein', atitle which would hardly have been applied to the Gieseking of the 1950s by whichtime he was acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of the Frenchimpressionists.
Gieseking made his London debut in 1923, his American debutin 1926 and appeared in Paris for the first time in 1928. During the 1930s hespent much of his time touring Europe, the United States and South America. Although he was in America in 1939, he decided to return to Germany at the outbreak of the SecondWorld War. After the war he played in Australia, Japan and South America, butwas not able to return to the United States until 1953 owing to his wartime allegiances.
In 1955 he embarked on a ten-month tour of America and in the autumn of 1956undertook a series of continuing recording sessions for EMI in London, where he died at the end of the year.
Before the Second World War Gieseking's repertoire was agood deal wider than it became later. He played concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov,piano sonatas by Scriabin, works by Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, and championedcontemporary composers such as Busoni, Hindemith, Korngold, Krenek, Poulenc, Pfitzner, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, many ofwhom dedicated works to him. He became known for his wide palette of tone anddynamics. At his London debut recital where his programme included Bach's EnglishSuite in D minor, Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 30, and Schumann's Waldscenen
,Op. 82, one critic wrote, 'Mr Gieseking's skill is great enough in some ways...
and his pianissimo
now and then becomes as nearly nothing as is possibleto imagine... The Bach was played with perfect clarity and his tone gradationshere and in the Debussy pieces were masterly'.
At the end of October 1932, while giving performances in England, Gieseking went to HMV's Abbey Road Studio No. 1 to record two works for piano andorchestra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Henry Wood. First herecorded Cesar Franck's Variations Symphoniques
and then Liszt's Piano ConcertoNo. 1 in E flat major. The Liszt is given a spirited performance, the pianistbeing noticeably light rather than bombastic, and, with the help of Henry Woodand his orchestra, poetic rather than histrionic. Here we get a view ofGieseking the virtuoso who during the 1930s played concertos by Brahms, Rachmaninovand Tchaikovsky. The Gramophone
's critic, who obviously hated Liszt'smusic, dismissed the recording in eleven lines, commenting mostly on the qualityof the recorded sound. His sour prejudice toward Liszt is borne out in thenonsense of his last sentence, 'The orchestra always sounds coarse, do what anyconductor will, and that quality is inherent in the music; in the composer'sspirit, which was a queer blend'.
The previous year Gieseking had also played under Henry Wood'sbaton at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert, in March 1931, performing Mozart'sPiano Concerto in E flat major, K. 271, at Queen's Hall in London. A newspapercritic noted that, 'His as well as the orchestra's was a beautifully scaledperformance, in which the details were closely related and subtly articulated,and the originality of Mozart's design, particularly of the slow movement, wasunfolded without any forced emphasis of its features'. The reviewer added that,'We do not generally expect extra pieces at Philharmonic concerts, but theapplause induced Herr Gieseking to play Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau
andthe "encore" was justified by its exquisite playing'. It was notuntil five years later, in September 1936, that Gieseking made a commercialrecording for Columbia of this Mozart concerto. Whilst in Berlin, he recordedthe work with members of the State Opera House Orchestra and conductor HansRosbaud. The beauty and clarity of Gieseking's playing is refreshing, and as thecritic above noted of the live performance of this work, everything is inproportion and tastefully delivered.
The following spring, in April 1937, Gieseking recordedagain in Berlin with the same orchestra and conductor. This time it was the PianoConcerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, by Beethoven. Again, Gieseking takes a lightand fast view of the work, which may make it sound rather more like Mozart thanBeethoven, but this is an early work, and while Gieseking's approach to the firstmovement is for two beats in a bar, it makes a buoyant and youthful impression.
In the third movement, played slightly slower than usual, Gieseking concentrateson the leggiermente
marking. When the recording was originally releasedit was referred to as 'deft and trim'. Two years later Gieseking played the concertoat the Salzburg Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and he recordedit again for Columbia in 1948 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and RafaelKubelik.
?é?® 2005 Jonathan Summers