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Hyperion Records

APR5664 - Emil Gilels & Yakov Zak Ė Mozart, Mozart-Busoni & Saint-SaŽns
Recording details: Various dates
Moscow, Russia
Release date: May 2007
Total duration: 67 minutes 24 seconds

Emil Gilels & Yakov Zak – Mozart, Mozart-Busoni & Saint-Saëns
Arrangement: Overture  [6'08]  recorded 1950
Allegro  [9'32]  recorded 1949
Andante  [7'25]  recorded 1949
Rondeau: Allegro  [6'32]  recorded 1949
Moderato assai  [0'50]  recorded 1950
Tempo di Minuetto  [1'06]  recorded 1950
Allegro  [1'03]  recorded 1950
Poco meno mosso  [1'27]  recorded 1950
Tempo del Temo  [1'10]  recorded 1950
Molto allegro  [1'12]  recorded 1950
Moderato assai  [1'23]  recorded 1950
Presto leggierissimo  [1'02]  recorded 1950
Alla marcia funebre: Allegro moderato  [3'28]  recorded 1950
Allegro  [2'01]  recorded 1950
Presto  [2'37]  recorded 1950

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

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Introduction  EnglishFranÁaisDeutsch
If it had not been for the Second World War the remarkable Emil Gilels/Yakov Zak piano duo would not have existed. In 1939 Gilels, fresh from winning the prestigious First International Ysaÿe Competition in Brussels, was set to commence his international career. At the same time, Yakov Zak, another compe­ti­tion winner – he took the coveted First Prize and the Mazurka Prize in the 1937 Inter­na­tional Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw – was making waves in Moscow as an admired performer and teacher. One day it might be possible to discover exactly what specific event brought these two artists together, though the fact that they both found themselves confined within their own country and dedicated to per­for­ming throughout the Soviet Union to bolster public morale was the obvious backdrop to their coming together.

Certainly the two pianists had much in common. Both were Jewish, born in Odessa just three years apart. Both studied at the Odessa Conservatoire, albeit with different tutors – Zak with Maria Starkhova, Gilels with Berta Reingbald – and both moved to Moscow to complete their studies with Heinrich Neuhaus. There must have been shared opinions on music and music-making as a result of their similar backgrounds. But there were also vital differences. Gilels was unquestionably cast in the high-powered, virtuosic mould, someone born to conquer and captivate international audiences, though not someone ideally suited to passing on his knowledge via a conserva­toire post. By contrast Zak, a prodigious performer though at a less incandescent level than Gilels, was a natural pedagogue and was therefore prepared to spend much of his time within the Soviet Union long after the Cold War was over. (Significantly Gilels made his USA debut in 1955; Zak did not venture there until a decade later.) Their differences did much to give the duo its striking individuality and flair: both pianists might have been technically impreg­nable and stylistically attuned but their con­tras­ting temperaments brought rare yet com­plementary qualities to their inter­pre­ta­tions which are exceptional in their effortless ebb and flow, drama and lyricism, wit and pathos. The duo inevitably wound down once Gilels was able to start taking the world by storm, culminating in his conquering of the USA in 1955, after which his international commit­ments were more or less all-consuming.

The choice of the duo’s recorded reper­toire is interesting. Its first recording, the Mozart Double Piano Concerto in 1949, is an obvious choice – though there is nothing obvious about the extraordinarily effective cadenzas which have never been credited! It is possible that Gilels’s connection with the French school via his first teacher Yakov Tkatch, a pupil of Raoul Pugno, resulted in the choice of Saint-Saëns for its next major recordings – the ‘Beethoven’ Variations and Carnival of the Animals. The latter – despite, or perhaps because of, the somewhat serious nature of the ‘humour’; though with the glamour of having Daniyl Shafran as solo cellist in ‘The Swan’ – proved something of a best-seller within the USSR. It was not possible to include both works in this programme and preference has been given to the duo’s truly astonishing performance of Saint-Saëns’s equally astonishingly inventive Variations. Gilels – that rarity among Soviet/Russian pianists, a convincing Mozartean – might also have been behind the choice of the more esoteric Mozart and Mozart-Busoni titles that complete their recorded repertoire and upon which the duo lavish so much attention. The Mozart-Busoni pieces were new to the Soviet catalogue.

Emil Gilels
Gilels’s early years closely parallel those of Zak, though by the time he entered Neuhaus’s class in Moscow in 1935 he was already a noted prize-winner, with the 1931 Ukrainian Compe­tition and the First All-Union Contest of Musicians and Performers of 1933 under his belt. During the difficult war years, aside from his duo appearances with Zak, Gilels premiered several new Soviet works and played much chamber music, frequently appearing with his sister Yelisaveta, brother-in-law Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostro­po­vich. His international career eventually began in 1947 with concert appearances in Eastern Europe. He made his first UK appearance, a some­what low-key affair, in 1952. As mentioned, Gilels was not a born teacher; he briefly joined the staff of the Moscow Conser­vatoire in 1938 and rejoined it in 1952 during which time he influenced, among others, Vladimir Block, Marina Mdivani and Igor Zhukov. Above all Gilels is best and rightly remembered as a lion among pianists active during the second half of last century: an unusually powerful and muscular player who simultaneously enabled passages of poetry and lyricism to take wing.

Yakov Zak
Zak studied with Heinrich Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatoire between 1933 and 1935. Immediately after his graduation Zak made his mature debut and began the teaching career which kept him at his alma mater for the rest of his life, being appointed full professor in 1947 and granted a chair in 1965. His most noted pupils include Nikolai Petrov, Yevgeni Mogilev­sky, Lyubov Timofeveya, Alexander Toradze and Youri Egorov.

Zak was one of the great Chopin players of his era but he also did his part in furthering contemporary Soviet music, notably premiering Kabalevsky’s third Piano Sonata in Moscow in 1947, as well as works by Yevgeni Golubev and Yuri Levitin. In 1951 he performed an all-Prokofiev recital before the composer to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. (Both Chopin and Kabalevsky will feature in an imminent CD devoted to this much underrated pianist.) His death in 1976 was sudden and unexpected. Apparently well-founded rumours attributed his demise to a heart attack brought on after a prolonged spell of interrogation by the KGB.

Bryan Crimp © 2007

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