Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly – very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and – horror vacui – the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year.
Own two of the works that helped cement Beethoven’s reputation as a creative genius like none other. Internationally acclaimed pianist Emanuel Ax joins Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in a dynamic performance of Beethoven’s robust Piano Concerto No. 3. Then, MTT leads the Grammy-winning SF Symphony Chorus and musicians in a rarely performed work: Beethoven’s Mass in C major.
This particular recording has been a favourite of mine since its initial release nearly 30 years ago. Stephen Kovacevich (or Bishop-Kovacevich. if you prefer) appeals as 1 of those pianists whose playing is rather forthright & precise, giving us here a rather lyrical presentation of the concerti full of grace & good demeanor. A little on the light side compared to those who pound out their Beethovens some would think.