Emil Gilels played a sonata by Scarlatti at his first public concert in 1929 and included them in his tours to the West in the 1950s. These recordings present a splendid group of the composer’s widely contrasting moods. Gilels was a true virtuoso in the Lisztian tradition, combining musical integrity with rarely equalled technique. The Fantasia was one of the works with which he won the First Soviet All-Union Competition in 1933, while his recordings of the Hungarian Rhapsodies and three works by Chopin are full of character and personality. A recently discovered notebook in which Gilels logged some of his recording sessions has made the dating of these recordings more accurate in this edition.
"Few pianists have possessed a more comprehensive, magisterial technique or musical integrity than Emil Gilels (his early volatility later calming into greater reflection). And here, in Naxos’s third volume, this time of recordings dating from 1935 to 1955, you will at once hear those salient characteristics that prompted awe and envy among even Gilels’s finest colleagues. First and foremost (even in dated sound) is what his teacher Heinrich Neuhaus called ‘an elemental virtuoso gift’ and a sound ‘rich in noble metal, 20-carat gold that we find in the voices of the great singers’. Gilels was both the grandest and most lyric of virtuosos. His Scarlatti is warm-hearted and romantic in a way current in Russia at the time of these recordings; and if his Chopin is more sober-suited, less unforgettably exultant and heroic than, say, Rubinstein’s, it is never without Gilels’s indelible quality. His Liszt, on the other hand, is overwhelming in its pulverising strength and brilliance (try the final pages of the Figaro Fantasy), a display of formidable but effortless virtuosity complemented by that seamless legato and cantabile for which he was famous. A special thanks, then, to all those who have made this issue possible, to the inexhaustible piano archive housed at the University of Maryland, to Ward Marston for his restoration and to Judith Raynor for her unearthing of new biographical information."
Bryce Morrison - Gramophone magazine September 2012
"Emil Gilels lovers, be on high alert: Gilels playing Scarlatti! Here we have Gilels playing the same Scarlatti sonatas, but in the mid-1950s, in really pretty good sound for the era, excellently restored. Gilels’ Scarlatti is magical: pianistic in its drama and color, but classical in its tempo and clarity. Am I saying Gilels’ Scarlatti is worthy of comparison with these greats? Yes, yes I am. The opening measures of K380 make an indelible impression with their evocation of tolling bells, and the rest has an enviable fluidity and natural clarity; the B minor has poetry and expansiveness ...The rest of the disc is fantastic too. The Liszt fantasia on Le nozze de Figaro (completed by Busoni) showcases Gilels’ trademark combination of bravura and good taste ... The Chopin’s another story again: the two polonaises are in noble, gallant readings, with the legendary ‘Heroic’ Op 53 showcasing Gilels’ command of the epic and care over detail at once. The Ballade is excellently done, with real poetry and gentleness when called for but a powerfully angry final minute (those haunting quiet chords in the coda are excellently rendered). It rounds out a generous 80 minutes of fascinating playing. Ward Marston’s sound restoration is heroic as always. For casual listeners, the rewards of these excellent recordings are to be had in the hearing."
Brian Reinhart - MusicWeb-International.com - September 2012