Various: Piano music by various composers

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano music by various composers
PERFORMER: Walter Gieseking, Friedrich Gulda, Leon Fleisher, Alexis Weissenberg, Rosalyn Tureck, Lyubov Bruk & Mark Taimanov
CATALOGUE NO: 456 811-2 or 456 817-2

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How distorted a view we get of pianists recorded even as recently as the Fifties seems imponderable. Gieseking’s reputation as a Debussy specialist was largely based on notably dry LPs.

His view of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto sounds half-baked today, and in the finale of the Emperor Gieseking’s dislike of practising catches him out. He is much better in two Mozart Concertos, though in that frozen, marmoreal manner that was once thought ‘classic’ (456 811-2).

In Debussy, I would rather hear Friedrich Gulda any day. His 1955 recording of the Preludes is full of magical things, vivid, alive – and passionate. Oddly enough, he wasn’t so compelling in Ravel, recorded during the same decade (456 817-2).

Leon Fleisher, now playing again after many years of repetitive strain injury, is exciting in the Liszt Sonata, but twitchy in Mozart and typically inclined to rush fences in a rarely heard Weber Sonata. Ravel’s Sonatine is orthodox and tastefully disciplined, his Alborada del gracioso amazingly fast and crisp. All were recorded in the Fifties, before his temporary paralysis, and suggest a brilliant rather than a very revealing player (456 775-2).

Like Fleisher, Alexis Weissenberg was recorded in a tinny sound which accentuated his brittle attack and Horowitz-like penchant for delivering as many electric shocks as possible. Yet he makes the outer movements of Rachmaninov’s First Sonata teeming, passionate and glamorous, even if the slow movement has little sense of line. Nor is his Bach quite coherent (456 988-2).

For deeply committed, incredibly intense Bach-playing, Rosalyn Tureck is unrivalled. Glenn Gould owed a lot to her. Whatever academic views may be of her scholarship, you will never be the same after listening to the six Partitas (456 976-2). Her response as a pianist is endlessly imaginative, if sometimes provocative. She charges every note with energy and commands your attention to the very last. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest keyboard artists of the last half-century.

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The only real discovery for me in this bunch was the Russian husband-wife duo, Mark Taimanov and Lyubov Bruk, who play Rachmaninov, and other music from Mozart to Poulenc, with irresistible enthusiasm, spontaneity and real togetherness (456 736-2).