Gieseking graphophone 902962455

Walter Gieseking (piano)
His Columbia Graphophone Recordings
rec. 1923-1956
The Complete Warner Classics Edition
Warner Classics 9029624559 [48 CDs]

Walter Gieseking (1895–1956) was one of those artists who enjoyed making recordings. He was fascinated with the process and its evolution. We are fortunate in that his career spanned the 78-era to the advent of stereo in the 1950s. A cursory glance at his discography reveals that it’s substantial by any standards. He was prolific; his legacy includes a Debussy cycle, complete Ravel cycle, complete Mozart Sonatas, anthologies of Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and Grieg Lyric Pieces and much more besides. In the 1950s he embarked on a complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle, left unfinished when he sadly died suddenly on 26 October 1956.

He was extraordinarily gifted. He possessed a phenomenal memory, exceptional sight-reading skills and was a quick learner of new scores. All the outstanding qualities and characteristics of his playing can be heard in this wonderful set, newly released by Warner. We hear the clarity of detail, the beauty of sound, the lightness of touch, the range of colour, formidable technique, the sense of structure and architecture and, most of all, the impeccable musicianship. This is how he summed up his philosophy of interpretation: “I feel that the whole conception of performance in these days is too heavy, loud and blatant. I prefer less power but, instead, more delicacy and ethereal refinement of tone”.

For a collection that encompasses so much, my review focuses on the highlights, which will give the prospective purchaser a taster of some of the set’s finest.

Eight CDs are devoted to the pianist’s Mozart solo piano cycle, recorded between 1953-1954. I can’t say I’m enamoured of some of the inconsistencies of his Mozart playing. Whilst technique, articulation and pedaling stand up positively to scrutiny, I sense a certain detachment, or rather lack of engagement at times. The Sonata in A minor K310 is one of the cycles successes, yet compare it with the Piano Sonata in C minor, K. 457, where a certain amount of rhythmic inexactitude creeps in at various times. To sum up, for a satisfying Mozart cycle I wouldn’t turn to Gieseking.

In the 1950s, the pianist embarked on a Beethoven piano sonata cycle but had only completed two-thirds of it when he died unexpectedly on 26 October 1956. Four of the sonatas, namely Nos. 21 Waldstein, 23 Appassionata, 30 and 31, were previously issued on a single CD in EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century. The booklet writer of that release was Bryce Morrison, who considered these four as some of the standouts. I totally agree with him. That CD was strongly recommended by my colleague John Quinn (review). Gieseking’s Beethoven playing is generally refined and poised, and marked by clarity and precision. I would single out Op. 31 No. 3. Gieseking sustains the character and narrative throughout the opening movement. The third movement Menuetto has elegance and charm, with the finale energized and effervescent. For a more inclusive cycle, there’s a live one from the late 1940s taped in Saarbruken and issued by Tahra on 7 CDs (TAH 394-400), which includes Nos. 16, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 32 that weren’t recorded for EMI. A warning though! The sound quality is less than ideal.

Walter Gieseking established himself as one of the foremost Debussy interpreters, and his recordings of the composer’s music take pride of place in his discography. His first Debussy inscriptions were recorded in the 1930s and my thoughts on these are set down in a review I did earlier in the year for an APR release titled “Debussy – The First Columbia Recordings”. The remakes were made between 1951 and 1954 at Abbey Road, produced by Walter Legge and Geraint Jones. They’ve had several outings on silver disc. They’re not quite complete as one of the composer’s piano pieces was only published in 1978. They’re in mono and hold the distinction for being the winner in the Historic non-vocal category of the 1996 Gramophone Awards. I would single out the Preludes as being particularly fine, and in them Gieseking manages to confer a myriad of tonal shadings. He’s quite generous with the pedal, and this envelops his playing in a cloud of glowing resonance. Has there ever been such grandeur and mystery as in Gieseking’s La cathédrale engloutie, and playful mischief as in La Danse de Puck?. Both Général Lavine – eccentric and Hommage à S Pickwick Esq ooze personality and character. In Images Book 1, Reflets dans l’eau truly conjures up rippling water whilst Poissons d’or from Book 11 shimmers with effervescence.

The Ravel cycle dates from 1954 and, once again, is exclusively monaural. The pianist’s pellucid sonority, ravishing sound and colour scheme suit this music to perfection. I have to say that I prefer the earlier studio versions of Gaspard and Miroirs for their immediacy and polish. The later Scarbo soundes a bit ragged around the edges. Yet, the tolling bells of Le Gibet vividly conjure up gloom and terror. In Miroirs, Oiseux tristes and La Vallee des cloches have that mysterious and dream-like quality so necessary for their effectiveness. Alborada del gracioso is smouldering and seething. Valses nobles et sentimentales, inspired by Schubert’s piano waltzes, convey an aura of Viennese charm.

The pianist recorded selections of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (17 in all) and Grieg’s Lyric Pieces (31 in all) mostly in 1956, shortly before his death. He devoted as much care to these delightful miniatures as he did to the more substantial and noble scores of Beethoven. He knew how to savour a luscious melody; sample Mendelssohn’s Op. 19, No. 1, Op. 62, No. 1 and Op. 85, No. 4 and you’ll see what I mean, whilst No. 34 in C major Spinnerlied Op. 67/4 demonstrates a lightness of touch and transparency that can’t be bettered. The same goes for the Grieg pieces. They gave the pianist the opportunity to exhibit his agility, impeccable musicianship and seductive pianism.

There were several collaborations with Karajan. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto’s 4 and 5 date from 1951, and were recorded in Kingsway Hall, London. The orchestra is the Philharmonia. In 1955 Gieseking rerecorded them with Alceo Galliera, again with the Philharmonia. The latter I have a preference for. There seems to be a greater frisson between pianist and conductor. That said, Karajan and Gieseking recorded glowing accounts of the Grieg and Schumann concertos in 1951 and 1953 respectively.

Studio 1A, Abbey Road was the venue for Gieseking’s collaborations with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, She sings Mozart and a selection of songs by the pianist himself. I shall concentrate on the Mozart. Schwarzkopf’s diction is so clear, her voice fresh and free of mannerisms. She’s dainty and sprightly in Die kleine Spinnerin K.531, adding more weight and drama to a song like Als Luise die Briefe K520. She phrases the lyrical line exquisitely Das Lied der Trennung, K519, responding eloquently to the song’s melancholic sentiments. Gieseking’s accompaniments are sensitive and magical throughout.

The new remasterings, which are fresh and vital, have been expertly realized by Christophe Hénault of Studio Art & Son (192kHZ/24bit) “from the best available sources for the 78-era recordings and the original tapes for those from the age of LP”. The accompanying liner notes are in English, French and German, and the booklet is interspersed with some attractive black and white photographs. Aficionados of the art of Walter Gieseking will certainly not want to pass on this desirable collection; it will prove a worthy investment.

Stephen Greenbank

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Presto Music


Bach, Johann Sebastian

Partita no.1 in B flat major, BWV825 (excerpts)

Partita no.6 in E minor, BWV830

Beethoven, Ludwig van

Bagatelle no.25 in A minor, WoO59 ‘Fur Elise’

Bagatelles (7), op.33

» no.1 in E flat major

Piano Concerto no.1 in C major, op.15

Piano Concerto no.4 in G major, op.58

Piano Concerto no.5 in E flat major, op.73 ‘Emperor’

Piano Sonata no.1 in F minor, op.2 no.1

Piano Sonata no.2 in A major, op.2 no.2

Piano Sonata no.3 in C major, op.2 no.3

Piano Sonata no.4 in E flat major, op.7

Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor, op.10 no.1

Piano Sonata no.6 in F major, op.10 no.2

Piano Sonata no.7 in D major, op.10 no.3

Piano Sonata no.8 in C minor, op.13 ‘Pathetique’

Piano Sonata no.9 in E major, op.14 no.1

Piano Sonata no.10 in G major, op.14 no.2

Piano Sonata no.11 in B flat major, op.22

Piano Sonata no.12 in A flat major, op.26 ‘Marche funebre’

Piano Sonata no.13 in E flat major, op.27 no.1 ‘Quasi una fantasia’

Piano Sonata no.14 in C sharp minor, op.27 no.2 ‘Moonlight’

Piano Sonata no.15 in D major, op.28 ‘Pastorale’

Piano Sonata no.17 in D minor, op.31 no.2 ‘Tempest’

Piano Sonata no.18 in E flat major, op.31 no.3 ‘The Hunt’

Piano Sonata no.19 in G minor, op.49 no.1

Piano Sonata no.20 in G major, op.49 no.2

Piano Sonata no.21 in C major, op.53 ‘Waldstein’

Piano Sonata no.23 in F minor, op.57 ‘Appassionata’

Piano Sonata no.30 in E major, op.109

Piano Sonata no.31 in A flat major, op.110

Quintet for piano and wind, op.16

Brahms, Johannes

Fantasias (7), op.116

Intermezzi (3), op.117

Klavierstucke (4), op.119

Klavierstucke (6), op.118

Klavierstucke (8), op.76

Rhapsodies (2), op.79

» no.2 in G minor

Chopin, Frederic

Barcarolle in F sharp major, op.60

Berceuse in D flat major, op.57

Etudes (12), op.25

» no.1 in A flat major

» no.2 in F minor

Mazurkas (51)

» no.13 in A minor, op.17 no.4

Nocturnes (21)

» no.3 in B major, op.9 no.3

» no.5 in F sharp major, op.15 no.2

Polonaise no.6 in A flat major, op.53 ‘Heroic’

Preludes (24), op.28

» no.23 in F major

Waltzes (19)

» no.6 in D flat, op.64 no.1 ‘Minute’

Debussy, Claude

Arabesques (2)

Ballade slave, L70

Berceuse heroique

Children’s Corner

D’un cahier d’esquisses (From a sketchbook), L112

Danse bohemienne, L9

Estampes (3)

Etudes pour piano (6), Book 1

Etudes pour piano (6), Book 2

Fantaisie for piano and orchestra, L73

Hommage a Haydn

Images pour piano, Book 1

Images pour piano, Book 2

L’Isle joyeuse

La Plus que lente, L121

Le Petit Negre, L114


Mazurka, L67

Nocturne in D flat major, L82

Pour le piano

Fugue in G minor, K401

Preludes (12), Book 1

Preludes (12), Book 2

Reverie, L68

Suite bergamasque

Tarentelle styrienne

Valse romantique, L71

Franck, Cesar

Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra

Gieseking, Walter

Kinderlieder (21)

Sonatine for flute and piano

Spiel um ein Kinderlied

Grieg, Edvard

Lyric Pieces (selection)

Norwegian Bridal Procession, op.19 no.2

Piano Concerto in A minor, op.16

Handel, George Frideric

Keyboard Suite no.5 in E major, HWV430 ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’

Liszt, Franz

Hungarian Rhapsodies (19), S244

» no.12 in C sharp minor

Piano Concerto no.1 in E flat major, S124

Mendelssohn, Felix

Songs without Words (Lieder ohne Worte): Book 5, op.62

» no.6 in A major ‘Fruhlingslied’

Songs without Words (selection)

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus

Abendempfindung an Laura, K523

Allegro and Allegretto in F major, K547a

Allegro in C major, K5a

Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte, K520

An Chloe, K524

Andante fur eine Walze in eine Orgel, K616

Andantino in E flat major, K236/588b

Capriccio in C major, K395

Contredanse en rondo in B flat major, K15gg

Dans un bois solitaire, K308

Das Kinderspiel, K598

Das Lied der Trennung, K519

Das Traumbild, K530

Das Veilchen, K476

Der Zauberer, K472

Die Alte, K517

Die Verschweigung, K518

Die Zufriedenheit, K349

Die kleine Spinnerin, K531

Eine kleine Gigue in G major, K574

Fantasia and Fugue in C major, K394

Fantasia in C minor, K396

Fantasia in C minor, K475

Fantasia in D minor, K397

Funeral March in C minor, K453a

German Dances (6), K509

Im Fruhlingsanfang, K597

Menuets (8), K315a

Oiseaux, si tous les ans, K307

Piano Concerto no.9 in E flat major, K271 ‘Jeunehomme’

Piano Concerto no.20 in D minor, K466

Piano Concerto no.23 in A major, K488

Piano Concerto no.24 in C minor, K491

Piano Concerto no.25 in C major, K503

Piano Sonatas nos 1-18 (complete)

Quintet in E flat major for piano and winds, K452

Ridente la calma, K152

Rondo in A minor, K511

Rondo in D major, K485

Sehnsucht nach dem Fruhling, K596

Suite in C major, K399

Un moto di gioia, K579

Variations (6) in F major on ‘Salve tu, Domine’ by Paisiello, K398

Variations (6) in G major on ‘Mio caro Adone’, K180

Variations (7) in D major on ‘Willem van Nassau’, K25

Variations (8) in A major on ‘Come un agnello’ from ‘Fra i due litiganti’, K460

Variations (8) in G major on a Dutch song ‘Laat ons juichen’ (C E Graaf), K24

Variations (8) on ‘Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding’, K613

Variations (8) on the March ‘Dieu d’amour’ from Gretry’s ‘Les Mariages samnites’, K352

Variations (9) in C major on N Dezede’s ‘Lison d’amour’, K264

Variations (9) in D major on a minuet by Jean Pierre Duport, K573

Variations (10) in G major on ‘Unser dummer Pobel meint’, K455

Variations (12) in B flat major on an Allegretto, K500

Variations (12) in C major on ‘Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman’, K265

Variations (12) in C major on a minuet by J C Fischer, K179

Variations (12) in E flat major on ‘Je suis Lindor’ from Pierre Beaumarchais’ Le Barbier de Seville, K354

Variations (12) on ‘La Belle Francoise’, K353

Warnung ‘Manner suchen stets zu naschen’, K433

Poulenc, Francis

Mouvements perpetuels (3)

Ravel, Maurice

A la maniere de Borodine

A la maniere de Chabrier

Gaspard de la nuit

Jeux d’eau

Le Tombeau de Couperin

Menuet antique

Menuet sur le nom de Haydn


Pavane pour une infante defunte (piano)



Valses nobles et sentimentales

Roussel, Albert

Joueurs de flute, op.27

» IV M de la Pejaudie

Vocalise no.2

Scarlatti, Domenico

Keyboard Sonata in C major, K356

Keyboard Sonata in D major, K33

Keyboard Sonata in D minor, K9

Keyboard Sonata in E major, K380

Keyboard Sonata in E minor, K394

Schubert, Franz

Impromptus (4), op.90 D899

Impromptus (4), op.142 D935

Klavierstucke (3), D946

Moments musicaux (6), op.94 D780

Schumann, Robert

Albumblatter, op.124

» no.16 Schlummerlied

Arabeske in C major, op.18

Carnaval, op.9

Kinderszenen, op.15

Piano Concerto in A minor, op.54

Waldszenen, op.82

» no.7 Vogel als Prophet

Scriabin, Alexander

Poemes (2), op.32

» no.1 in F sharp major

Preludes (5), op.15

» no.4 in E major

Sinding, Christian

Pieces (6), op.32

» no.3 Rustle of Spring

Strauss, Richard

Lieder (5), op.48

» no.1 Freundliche Vision (arr. Gieseking)

Tansman, Alexandre

Novelettes (8) for piano

» no.6 Blues

Participating artists:

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)

Philharmonia Wind Quartet

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Philharmonia Orchestra

Staatskapelle Berlin

Wiener Philharmoniker

Participating conductors:

Karl Bohm

Alceo Galliera

Herbert von Karajan

Rafael Kubelik

Hans Rosbaud

Bruno Walter

Henry Wood