WALTER GIESEKING, pianist
FRANCK:  Symphonic Variations (rec. Oct. 31, 1940).  Debussy:  Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra (rec. Oct. 6, 1938) (with Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Willem Mengelberg).  RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 (rec. Feb. 1939) (with New York Philharmonic Orch/Sir John Barbirolli, cond. 

MUSIC & ARTS CD 1095 (F)(ADD) TT: 75:06
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Gieseking's live Franck and Debussy with Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw are well-known to collectors, having been issued both on LP and CD, but his New York Rachmaninoff Third is new to CD (it was issued on an IPA black disk). After great success with Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2, in 1938 Barbirolli suggested to Gieseking that he play No 3 and their collaboration took place the following season, documented on this CD. The work is given without cuts, and Gieseking plays the bigger first movement cadenza.

This is a reckless, dazzling performance quite different from the way the concerto is played by most of today's pianists. The first movement opening is quite slow. Gieseking's treatment of Rachmaninoff's flowing themes is rather prosaic, some might say even insensitive. His attack of the original cadenza leaves many notes by the wayside (mishaps that occur often throughout the  concerto) but there is no question of the visceral excitement produced—this from a pianist best-known for his Debussy and Ravel. It is fascinating to hear the final notes of the concerto played so deliberately, the same way Horowitz (unusual for him) played them in his1950 Hollywood Bowl live performance with Koussevitzky (REVIEW).

Rachmaninoff was in the audience for this performance and had a long conversation with Gieseking afterwards, evidently expressing his approval—and surprise at the concerto being presented uncut and with the original first movement cadenza. Another Gieseking Rachmaninoff Third is available from a concert March 28, 1940 with Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw. This (coupled with a Rachmaninoff Second from October 1940) is an even more slap-dash affair, missed notes galore and an impetuous forward drive (and, as one might expect from Mengelberg, very deliberate concluding bars).  Mengelberg's accompaniment is unique and he's with Gieseking all the way—a flawed but exciting performance, available on Music & Arts (CD 4250). CD notes mention that Gieseking was to have recorded the Third with Karajan  (an unlikely conductor for this repertory) for EMI. Kudos to Music & Arts for once again making important live performances available to collectors.

Three years later (May 1941) Barbirolli would conduct Rachmaninoff Three again, this time with Horowitz as soloist, one of the most electrifying performances preserved on recording (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (Oct. 2001)