P1309. EMIL GILELS: Fantasia #3 in d, K.397; Sonata #15 in F, K.533/494 (both Mozart); Sonata #3 in b; Polonaise in c (both Chopin). Transfers by Yves St Laurent. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-769, Live Performance, 11 Aug., 1980, Salzburg.
"Emil Gilels, one of the world's great pianists and, in 1955, the first Soviet musician to perform in the United States since Sergei Prokofiev in 1921, was a stocky man with a shock of sandy hair and short, stubby fingers, uncharacteristic for a pianist. But his greatness was widely recognized. Howard Taubman of THE NEW YORK TIMES proclaimed him a 'great pianist' on the occasion of his New York debut at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 4, 1955. After his first New York recital a week later, Harold C. Schonberg invoked the phrase 'little giant', the term the critic W. J. Henderson had used for the pianist and composer Eugen d'Albert at the turn of the century.
Mr. Gilels continued to receive such encomiums throughout his career, both in the Soviet Union, where he had taught at the Moscow Conservatory since 1938, and in the West. Altogether, he made 14 American tours, the last in 1983. On the occasion of his last New York recital, on April 16, 1983, Donal Henahan wrote in THE TIMES of his 'formidable, high-finish technique and beautiful control of nuance'.
Mr. Gilels led the procession of Soviet artists of his generation to the West; others who emerged shortly after his debut were David Oistrakh, the violinist; Sviatoslav Richter, the pianist, and Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist. Mr. Rostropovich later became an outspoken dissident, but the others remained honored Russian citizens. Together, this group suggested that the traditions of Romantic music-making had not died out in the relatively isolated Russian musical world. 'The precepts of Leopold Auer still prevailed in violin pedagogy, and the pianists stemmed straight from Anton Rubinstein and the Leschetizky school', Mr. Schonberg wrote in 1979, on the occasion of one of Mr. Gilels' periodic returns to the American concert scene.
But especially in his later years, Mr. Gilels was a more Classically inclined pianist than, say, Mr. Richter. In 1970 he even offered an all-Mozart recital at Philharmonic (now Avery Fisher) Hall, which Allen Hughes of THE TIMES called 'superbly wrought'.
Basically, however, Mr. Gilels was a big, rich-toned pianist who could ride triumphantly over an orchestra in the mainstream Romantic piano concertos - those of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, all of which he recorded. He wasn't always note-perfect, but he commanded his repertory with an elan that made such flaws seem insignificant. And unlike some powerhouse virtuosos, he had a poetic gift that enlivened slow movements."
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 Oct., 1985