Nikolayeva Combined Clarity and Fervor


TATYANA NIKOLAYEVA: THE 1989 HERODES ATTICUS ODEON RECITAL / BACH: A Musical Offering – Ricerar à 3; French Suite No. 4 in E-flat. SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes. RAVEL: Miroirs, Nos. 2 & 3. SCRIABIN: Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9. Poème Tragique. BORODIN: Petite Suite: I. In the Monastery. MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at anExhibition: Ballet of the Chicksin Their Shells. PROKOFIEV: 10 Pieces: No. 7, Prelude / Tatyana Nikolayeva, pianist / First Hand Records FHR46 (live: Athens, 1989)

Unlike many of her male Soviet colleagues, Tatyana Nikolayeva (1924-1993) didn’t make a name for herself outside her home country until the very last years of the Soviet Union, and then she only had a scant nine years to do so as performer and competition judge. Within her home country, however, she was considered a towering figure, particularly in the music of Bach and Shostakovich. This particular recital, which has never surfaced on records before, finds the formidable sexagenarian at her very best, playing strongly structured performances of Bach, Schumann, Ravel and four Russians whose work spans a century and a half.

What comes through most clearly in her playing is just that: clarity. Nikolayeva was first and foremost a mistress of musical architecture, thus one will listen in vain for heavily Romantic overtones in Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. In its place we have what I would define as a true symphonic construction, emphasizing the music’s clarity and form without, I may add, sacrificing real feeling. Nikolayeva, like her predecessor Maria Yudina, emphasized a crisp, clear style of playing, each note emerging as pure as a drop of water in a mountain stream, and this is evident throughout this wonderful recital.

I could go on and on about this recording and her style of playing, a style that simply does not exist in today’s classical music world. Pianists nowadays are far too eager to pursue speed for its own sake and forsake even the pretense of interpretation, whereas for a musician of Nikolayeva’s temperament structure and feeling went hand in hand. A perfect example of this is Ravel’s Miroirs, which has far greater clarity than one normally hears in his music or in this piece, or the early Scriabin pieces which were related in mood and form to Chopin. Her repeated chords, for example, are crisp and a bit dry, with none of the Romantic style most pianists impart to them.

One of the great delights of this recital is the exceptional recorded sound, so realistic and clear that it could easily have been recorded in a studio. A wonderful release.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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