Walter Gieseking: The Complete 1950s Solo Studio Recordings
These aren’t quite the ‘complete’ Walter Gieseking 1950s solo studio recordings of Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, in that the pianist’s 1951 Schumann Kinderszenen (not to be confused with his 1940 traversal reissued by Arbiter) is omitted in favour of his 1955 remake. Still, most of the material has not been easy to source outside of Japan in a well-annotated, conscientiously transferred CD edition such as APR offers here.
Gieseking’s enormous facility and stamina allowed him to record prolifically and expediently, which is not to say that everything comes off equally well. There’s no questioning his seasoned classicism and purity of line throughout much of Kinderszenen; you’ll rarely hear such an expansive, eloquently phrased and less mannered ‘Traümerei’ on disc. At the same time, there are occasional ghosted notes and rushed beats (‘Hasche-Mann’, for example) absent from the earlier versions. Schumann’s Carnaval teeters between impatience (‘Pierrot’ and ‘Valse noble’), matter-of-factness (‘Papillons’) and full-bodied grandeur (the finale), missing the characterful consistency of the mono LP era’s best versions, although Gieseking does play the forbidden ‘Sphinxes’, albeit nonchalantly.
Compared to the linear specificity and almost chamber-like repartee between the hands distinguishing Wilhelm Kempff’s mono-era late Brahms, Gieseking sometimes barnstorms his way through thicker, more ambitious pieces, and not articulating the whirling figurations thoughtfully: take Op 79 No 1’s lurching accelerandos or Op 118 No 1’s poor voice-leading as two telltale examples. Yet some of the lyrical, more introspective works represent a captivating fusion of Gieseking’s subtle colour palette and poetic impulses, such as in the texturally three-dimensional Op 118 No 6 or an achingly probing account of Op 119 No 1. And the three Op 117 Intermezzos sound even more luminous and cultivated than I remember from my childhood American Columbia vinyl LP copy.
Gieseking’s intimately scaled, classically orientated Schubert Impromptus will sound relatively lightweight compared with the Schnabel version’s tensile dynamism. The same analogy applies to the Drei Klavierstücke, measuring Gieseking alongside EMI rival Claudio Arrau’s massive, more rhetorical vantage point. In and of themselves, however, one marvels at the sheer evenness of Gieseking’s rippling scales and rotary patterns, and with very little help from the sustain pedal. Gieseking paces the G flat Impromptu in a true alla breve tempo and incorporates the now discredited change in harmony on the fourth beat of measure five (Gieseking’s own edited Urtext score for Henle avoids this bowdlerisation).
Once past a slightly foursquare C major opening, the remaining five Schubert Moments musicaux find Gieseking more involved and focused. Notice the F minor’s minuscule gradations in touch and just a dash of rubato. By contrast, No 5’s pianissimo section presses forward with an angular urgency that evokes, you guessed it, Schnabel! In a world infiltrated by unbearably slow readings of No 6, Gieseking’s genuine Allegretto is both a corrective and a relief.
You would think that an incandescent Debussy interpreter such as Gieseking would make magic out of the Chopin Berceuse’s tracery, but his correct yet rather dull interpretation never really comes to life. Nor does the Barcarolle, for the most part; Gieseking’s pre-war version on 78s is far more shapely and inspired. The little Scriabin pieces neither add to nor detract from Gieseking’s recorded legacy.
From what I infer, sonically speaking, Al Lesitsky’s transfers appear to be effected from mint or near-mint LP pressings that are either comparable or marginally superior to long-out-of-print Japanese EMI CD editions, save for the Schubert Klavierstücke, which sound slightly drier and more compressed. Does APR have plans to reissue Gieseking’s complete 1950s solo Beethoven?