Did Carly Simon think of him when she sang "Nobody Does It Better?" Perhaps! No One (except Maybe Pollini and that's a LARGE Maybe) is as insightful and clear headed in their playing of Beethoven as Mr. Gilels was.
This Disc simply proves he was peerless. Though i say that, i say that with one slight exception (to be explained later.) His "Apassionata" is one of SCARY Brilliance, from Titanic Rage to Poetic Sadness sometimes all at the same time. His Ringing out of some of the MASSIVE Fortissimo Chords in the first movement are at the peak of Passionate Violence, as if he was trying to destroy his poor Piano. one can truly imagine the idea that Beethoven Broke Piano strings with his Outrageous Virulent Virtuosity listening to such Vehement playing.
The "Waldstein" is a Jewel onto itself, Majestic and the rhythmic pulse never once fades or falters. the control Gilels exerts is Steely and Formidable, not many on this planet heretofore or since could have played so energetically yet so cleanly and precisely.
The thing i admire the most is, Gilels never sloppily indulges in Sentiment or Emotional upheavels (like some of the more "RUSSIAN" Ilk, you know who you are, Mr's. Horowitz, Rubinstein and ESPECIALLY the Horrendously overeaxaggerated Ricther whom ripped Beethovens music more to shreds than illuminated it!) his playing is of the best and most positive kind, the kind of playing exemplified by Pollini, Andsnes, O'Conor they simply play the music on the page. they do not INTERPRET it, which is always a danger with Beethoven, I have always found the less INTERPRETATION the better.
Now on to the Crown Jewel of the set, But also the one with the Earlier mentioned exception. I personally don't think that ANYONE could have exemplified the stark emotion of The "Les Adieux" Sonata any better than Gilels, because of hearing his playing of this piece on the radio one night it became my all time favorite piece of music standing proudly beside Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. His playing is Luminary and Translucent but also Heartrendering and Immensly saddening. without Pretention or Sentimentality he exults and extolls the feeling of lonliness and heartbreak Ludwig poured into this piece with out explicitly saying anything of the sort except in the vague movement descriptions, Beethoven simply let the music do the emoting, and GOD ABOVE, it Emotes! And Gilels is a near perfect advocate of the language of sadness and one might say despair that Ludwig inbued this music with. BUT, and here's where some may think i am loony, but i have always thought that John O'Conor's Performance of this piece was the most satisfying simply for the lack of personal involvelent in the music, the almost abject distance and true "letting the music do the talking" you don't hear him trying to impress his personality onto the music, the music says plenty enough without anyone TRYING to make it speak. O'Conor's Pianism is First rate as well, and his personality is far less evident than in Gilels version, yet perhaps that's for some what makes his version the more desirable, i personally think in those last stacatto notes of the first movement ( you know, Bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-BUM-bum) Before the upsweep of notes in the right hand near then very end, Gilels seems to force the issue of the Stacatto notes leading up from a very low and soft piano to an almost Forte expression, as if trying to give more gravity and weight to the theme, yet O'Conor plays the entire Passage at piano and far more delicately, and it seems that that is the right tact, it feels more taciturn and dejected, the light in the dark, as if in this theme which can be all at once upbeat and horribly depressive that even in sadness there can be hope.
But again, on any level, on a scale of 1-10 star performances, this is a 32! YOU SIMPLY MUST OWN THIS! I Do!