Stuck behind the iron curtain, Mravinsky, Richter and Gilels were legends, and rightly so.
"Russian passion locked up," Yehudi Menuhin sums it up perfectly in these words when talking about Evgeny Mravinsky. He never said 'Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen', according to a violinist in his orchestra. Upon his arrival a crushing silence would hang over everyone, to be interrupted after three or four minutes with 'four measures before measure 64'… that was all." "He was extremely strict," confirms Menuhin. An autocrat venerated and feared by his orchestra, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic which he conducted for fifty years from 1931 till his death in 1988 and from which, thanks to hard work, Mravinsky obtained extraordinary perfection. "Before a concert, he would make us rehearse several times Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony although we knew it by heart. But it was fascinating; we were at the heart of the creative process."
However, Mravinsky didn't like recording, he even stopped frequenting studios from 1961. Yet he left at least five versions of the overture of the Oberon by Weber, a piece he felt in perfect harmony with. This version recorded in 1978 is the last.
Another favorite work of his was Francesca da Rimini, the symphonic poem by Tchaikovsky: it was the piece he conducted when in 1938 in Moscow, he won the Competition for Best Conductor in the USSR in front of Kirill Kondrashin. In 1983, he renewed the feat once again by winning the audience over with his extraordinary mix of contained passion and haughty nobility.
That is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels. Not only for their imposing physical presence (Richter frightened the orchestra conductor, Rozhdestvensky) but also because of the way they grasped the keyboard. Was it because they had the same professor at the Moscow Conservatory, the famous Heinrich Neuhaus?
When we evoke Richter's repertoire, the name of Mendelssohn does not immediately spring to mind. Yet, in Moscow in 1966, he gave a powerful yet delicate interpretation of the Variations sérieuses.
However, the name of Prokofiev immediately springs to mind when one thinks of Emil Gilels. They became friends in Odessa, where the pianist was born in 1916. The composer entrusted him with the premiere of the Eighth Sonata in 1944. But the Third Sonata, which he played in the studios of the BBC in 1959, was also part of his repertoire. Gilels will, however, only leave two recordings twenty years apart, as well as this version that is all the more precious that his television appearances were rare. In this compact work in a single movement, he unleashes all of his power, with an infallible sense of rhythm.
Edinburgh Festival 1964
Orchestre de Monte-Carlo, Okko Kamu
Edinburgh Festival 1964