gavrilov complete dg eloquence

Andrei Gavrilov (piano)
Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
rec. 1990-1993, various locations
Eloquence 484 2492 [10 CDs]

With the deaths of Karajan and Horowitz in 1989 and Leonard Bernstein a year later, DG set about to rebuild its artistic roster, and the Russian, now Swiss pianist, Andrei Gavrilov was one of the beneficiaries. He’d made his first recordings for Melodiya, then for twelve years he was signed up exclusively with EMI. In 1990 he defected to Deutsche Grammophon, and remained with the label for the next three years. Most of his DG recordings were made in Germany, where he was living at the time, at venues located in Hanover, Hamburg-Harburg and Weisbaden.

One of Gavriolov’s first ambitions on signing with DG was to remake some recordings from his EMI discography. He was dissatisfied with some of his earlier work, as “there were too many problems”. He began by rerecording Chopin’s Second Sonata and Four Ballades, commenting “Hopefully I play them better now”. Other remakes from his EMI past included the Bach French Suites, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata and his Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75.

We begin with Bach. The Goldberg Variations were set down in 1993. Gavrilov takes all repeats and delivers an account of superb technical command. Articulation is deftly executed, pedalling well-judged and ornamentation intelligent and stylish. On the downside, some of his tempo choices don’t sit well for me. Variation 13 is too fast and Variation 20 too frenetic. I do like the doleful and delicately shaped Variation 21, and the famous Black Pearl Variation 25 is wistful and probing. All told, though, it wouldn’t be my first choice for this work.

I’ve held a great fondness for Gavrilov’s accounts of the French Suites, which I became acquainted with some years ago. Despite, at times, an over-liberal use of the pedal, there’s much warmth and sophistication in his approach. His performances highlight the variety and excitement enshrined therein. Tempo choices seem just right. The dances are sprightly, enhanced by a light touch and staccato articulation, and the Sarabandes are noble and ruminative.

Gavrilov performs both sets of Schubert Impromptus with refined elegance, emphasizing their affectionate and lyrical qualities. The one criticism I do have regards No 1 in C minor from the first set, where the tempo is just too hasty and the rhythm too jaunty. The well-loved No 3 in G-flat D899 is as seductive as any I’ve heard. The D935 gets off to a good start with an arresting F minor Impromptu, which contrasts drama with eloquence. Each variation of the 3rd Impromptu on the Rosamunde theme is sensitively sculpted. The cascading runs in the final variation glisten. No 4 in F minor has ample vitality and élan.

The pianist began his DG collaboration with a remake of the Chopin Second Sonata and Four Ballades. The opening movement of the Sonata is passionate and bold, with impressive dramatic sweep. The lyrical second subject makes a fine, soothing contrast. The outer sections of the Scherzo are too frenzied, but the song-like trio section provides some much-needed balm. You can hear the wind whip up in the brief finale. Chopin’s Four Ballades offer the pianist some of the composer’s biggest challenges. Gavrilov rises to these admirably. The First Ballade is wonderfully evocative, with the lyrical moments expressive and radiant. The tumultuous, agitated undercurrents of the Second Ballade register a striking impact. The Fourth Ballade, my favorite of the set, is the longest and most technically challenging. Gavrilov performs the taxing coda with coruscating brilliance.

One of the most attractive discs in the collection is the survey of twenty-four of Grieg’s Lyric pieces. He includes some of the most popular, including To Spring, Butterfly, Remembrances and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Yet, they are all captivating in their own way. He captures the fleeting moods of each. In his recording he pays homage to his countryman Emil Gilels, whose classic DG recording I’ve always cherished.

Prokofiev is represented by three piano sonatas, Nos 3, 7 and 8 and the Romeo and Juliet: 10 Pieces for piano, Op 75. The sonatas are particularly fine. To them, Gavrilov brings tremendous technical prowess and rhythmic power, emphasizing the music’s percussive writing. There’s also a great sense of drama and a wealth of dynamic shading. Ravel’s Gaspard is no less impressive, where the individual character of each of the three pieces is perfectly captured. Ondine is mischievous, mercurial and seductive, Le Gibet has sufficient menace, whilst Scarbo is an impressionistic tour-de-force.

The Britten disc may seem like something of a rare bird, but the pianist had a long-standing love of Britten’s music and had harboured a desire to record The Golden Vanity with the Vienna Boys Choir. It was his friend and colleague Sviatoslav Richter who first introduced him to the composer’s music. The recording was padded out with a collection of songs for boys’ voices and piano titled Friday Afternoons, and The Ballade of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard for young mens’ voices and piano. There’s also a couple of solo piano items titled Sailing and Night. The German boys sing in English with pristine intonation and total choral security. All told, the CD is a delightful rarity.

The pianist joined forces with his fellow countryman Vladimir Ashkenazy for a disc of works for two pianos by Igor Stravinsky. It constitutes Gavrilov’s sole Decca recording. It was made in January 1990, just prior to taking up his DG contract. These are dazzling renditions with both pianists on superb form. Their driving rhythms, array of keyboard colour and spontaneity give sheer pleasure.

As to the remakes in this set, I’m not familiar with Gavrilov’s previous recordings on EMI, so can’t offer any comparisons. The production standards for this remarkable set are very high. The remasterings by Chris Bernauer are excellent and effective in every way. The accompanying booklet is enhanced by Peter Quantrill’s and Peter Czornyj’s informative notes, in addition to some fascinating photos. The original jacket artwork is another plus. This is a release which pianophiles will treasure.

Stephen Greenbank

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music

Bach, Johann Sebastian
French Suites, BWV812-817
Goldberg Variations, BWV988
Britten, Benjamin
Friday Afternoons, Op 7
Holiday Diary, Op 5
» No 2 Sailing
» No 4 Night
The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
The Golden Vanity: A Vaudeville for boys and piano, Op 78
Chopin, Frederic
Piano Sonata No 2 in B-flat minor, Op 35 ‘Funeral March’
Grieg, Edvard
Lyric Pieces: Book 1, Op 12
» No 1 Arietta
Lyric Pieces: Book 2, Op 38
» No 1 Berceuse
Lyric Pieces: Book 3, Op 43
» No 1 Butterfly
» No 2 Solitary traveller
» No 6 To Spring
Lyric Pieces: Book 4, Op 47
» No 2 Album-leaf
» No 3 Melody
» No 4 Halling
Lyric Pieces: Book 5, Op 54
» No 1 Shepherd’s Boy
» No 2 Norwegian Rustic March
» No 3 March of the Dwarfs
» No 4 Nocturne
» No 5 Scherzo
Lyric Pieces: Book 6, Op 57
» No 6 Homesickness
Lyric Pieces: Book 7, Op 62
» No 4 Small Brook
Lyric Pieces: Book 8, Op 65
» No 5 In ballad vein
» No 6 Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
Lyric Pieces: Book 9 (6), Op 68
» No 3 At your feet (For dine fotter)
» No 5 At the Cradle
Lyric Pieces: Book 10, Op 71
» No 1 Once upon a time
» No 2 Summer’s Eve
» No 3 Puck
» No 6 Gone
» No 7 Efterklang (Remembrances)
Prokofiev, Sergei
Piano Sonata No 3 in A minor, Op 28
Piano Sonata No 7 in B-flat major, Op 83
Piano Sonata No 8 in B-flat major, Op 84
Pieces for Piano (4), Op 4
» No 4 Suggestion diabolique
Pieces for Piano, Op 12
» No 7 Prelude
Romeo and Juliet: Pieces for piano, Op 75
Ravel, Maurice
Gaspard de la nuit
Pavane pour une infante defunte
Schubert, Franz
Impromptus, Op 90 D899
Impromptus, Op 142 D935
Stravinsky, Igor
Concerto for two pianos
Scherzo a la Russe (arr. for 2 pianos)
Sonata for two pianos
The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) (piano duet)