The Music Plays On

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Emil Gilels

The Russian pianist, Emil Gilels, is often overshadowed by his contemporary, Sviatoslav Richter, but this is due more to style than substance. While Richter had a volatile and elusive musical personality, Gilels’ was calm and forthright. As I wrote a few days ago, Richter’s musical personality was well-suited to the music of Schubert. For Gilels, the composer whose music seemed the perfect glove was Beethoven’s.

Gilels’ recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas — he didn’t record all of them, sadly — were the first recordings that I collected with fervor. In listening to them now, I am still struck by how Gilels plays these pieces with an honesty and straightforwardness. There is absolutely no artifice.