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The story behind this album goes back to the early ‘40s, when Rachmaninov, living in the US, chanced to hear Gilels on the radio. So moved was he by the performance of this young Russian that he sent him the medal bearing Anton Rubinstein’s likeness which had once been given to him: thus did he pass on the torch to a brilliant successor. Born in Odessa, Gilels had been a child prodigy, but protected from the usual circus razzmatazz; he was taught by the great Heinrich Neuhaus, who allowed his phenomenal gifts to unfold at a natural pace. Idolised in the Soviet Union, he took New York by storm, and was dubbed – for his diminutive stature and powerful build – ‘The Little Giant’ by the New York Times.

Made in 1974 and 1966 respectively, these two live recordings reflect Gilels’ refined artistry at its best. He brings relaxed and companionable warmth to the first movement of the Beethoven, and a bated- breath tenderness to the Adagio, going at an exceptionally slow tempo which pays handsome dividends; the finale has swashbuckling brilliance. His performance of the Rachmaninov is both commanding and wonderfully poetic.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica

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