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The Legacy of Maria Yudina
Volume 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Variations and Fugue on a theme from Prometheus in E flat major (Eroica Variations) Op.35 (1802) [21:11]
Diabelli Variations in C major Op.120 (1822-23) [44:01]
Rec. 1961
VISTA VERA VVCD-00069 [65:12]
Volume 2
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)

Sonata Op.59 (1928) [16:55]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Sonata in C (1924) [11:51]
Serenade for Piano (1924) [10:03]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Microcosmos (1926-39) – Eight movements; Nos. 128, 132, 137, 142, 144, 145, 146 and 149 [15:26]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Sonata for two pianos (1942)
Marina Drozdova (piano) – Hindemith
Rec.1961 (Krenek), 1962 (Stravinsky) and 1970 (Hindemith). Bartók undated
VISTA VERA VVCD-00070 [73:51]
Volume 3

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book II, BWV 870-893 (1722)
Nos 1-12; 15 and 21 [77:55]
rec. 1953-57
VISTA VERA VVCD-00071 [77:55]
Volume 4
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No.29 in B flat major Hammerklavier Op.106 (1818) [38:27]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Intermezzo Op.116 No.2 [3:04]
Intermezzo Op.117 No.1 [4:19]
Intermezzo Op.117 No.2 [3:17]
Intermezzo Op.117 No.3 [4:35]
Intermezzo Op.118 No.1 [1:48]
Intermezzo Op.118 No.2 [4:33]
Intermezzo Op.118 No.4 [2:19]
Intermezzo Op.116 No.6 [4:34]
Intermezzo Op.119 No.2 [4:31]
Intermezzo Op.119 No.3 [1:41]
Rec. 1951 (Op.117 No.2); 1952 (Beethoven; Op.118 No.1, Op. 118 No.4 and Op.119 No.4); 1966 (Op.118 No.6) and 1968 (Op.116 No.2, Op.117 Nos 1 and 2, Op.118 No.2 and Op.119 No.2)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00072 [73:13]
Volume 5
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op.24 (1861) [23:37]
Rhapsody in G major Op.79 [4:50]
Piano Quartet No.2 in A major Op.26 (1861-62) [46:03]
Dmitri Tsyganov (violin); Feodor Druzhinin (viola); Sergei Shirinsky (cello) of the Beethoven Quartet in the Quartet
rec. 1948 (Handel variations), 1952 (Rhapsody) and 1968 (Quartet)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00073 [74:30]
Volume 6
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in B flat major Op. posth, D.960 (1828) [41:45]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (1837) [29:07]
Vogel als Prophet Op 82 No.7 [3:07]
rec. 1947 (Schubert), 1951-52 (Schumann)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00074 [74:05]

Volume 7
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806) [34:58]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major (Emperor), Op. 73 (1809) [37:29]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling, recorded 1948 (No.4)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Nathan Rakhlin, recorded live in 1950 (No.5)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00075 [75:29]
Volume 8
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 10 No. 1 (1796-8) [18:35]
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op. 26 (1800-01) [19:53]
Piano Sonata in F major, Op. 54 (1804) [11:34]
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (1821-22) [22:56]
rec.1950 (Op.10/1); 1951 (Op.54); 1958 (Op.26); 1958 (Op.111)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00080 [72:59]
Volume 9
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 31 No. 1 (1801-02) [22:58]
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90 (1814) [11:46]
Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 101 (1816) [18:54]
Violin Sonata No. 6 in A major Op. 30 No. 1 (1801-02) [22:23] *
Maria Kozoloupova (violin)
rec. Moscow 1950 (Violin Sonata); 1951 (Op31 No.1); 1958 (Op.90) and 1959 (Op.101)
VISTA VERA VVCD-0081 [76:06]
Volume 10
Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)

Piano Quartet in E major Op.20 (1906) [35:24]
Piano Quintet in G minor Op.30 (1911) [50:10]
Beethoven Quartet
Rec. 1953 (Op.20) and 1957 (Op.30)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00084 [76:33]
Volume 11
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [31:13]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) [23:32]
Rondo in A minor K511 (1787) [9:25]
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Sergei Gorchakov, recorded 1948 (K466)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Gauk, recorded 1948 (K488)
Rondo rec.1961
VISTA VERA VVCD-00087 [65:12]
Volume 12
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book I, BWV 846-869 (1722)
Preludes and Fugues BWV864-869 [34:15]
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903 [11:05]
Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 543 arranged Franz Liszt [9:47]
Violin Sonata in E major BWV 1016 [19:20] *
Maria Kozoloupova (violin)
rec.1948 (Violin Sonata) and 1950-55 (remainder)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00088  [73:51]
Volume 13
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Meditation [4:49]
Album Leaf [4:32]
Three Pieces on themes from Boris Godunov – adapted for piano by A Kamensky [7:58]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata-Triad in A flat major Op.11 [No.2] (1904-06) [25:07]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet Op.75 (1938) – concert transcription No.10 [8:58]
Visions Fugitives Op.22 (1915-19) [23:07]
rec. 1949 (Meditation and Album Leaf); 1952 (Romeo); 1953-55 (Visions Fugitives); 1969 (Three Pieces) and 1958 (Medtner sonata)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00090 [74:42]
Volume 14
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [33:20]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Sonata No.2 Op.61 (1942) [25:01]
rec. October 1965 (Shostakovich); Mussorgsky undated
VISTA VERA VVCD-00109 [58:33]




 
 

Here are fourteen volumes from Vista Vera's exhaustive and important restorations devoted to the paradoxical Maria Yudina. Each affords one the opportunity to concentrate on her recorded legacy with something approaching comprehensiveness. All are available individually.

Let’s start with Disc five, which is all-Brahms. She is known to have been intellectually taken by variational form and so the complexities of the Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel would have appealed strongly. (I should note in passing that her famous Goldberg Variations recording is not included in these fourteen volumes but it’s available elsewhere). This is a virile and powerful reading though one somewhat vitiated by her typically over-heated rhythmic way – note the fourth variation in particular. The fugue receives a truly thunderous reading. This was one of the earliest performances in this series but she was a fully mature artist at the time. Let’s pass over the Rhapsody in G major – eccentric and really very poor. Much better is her 1968 collaboration with three members of the Beethoven Quartet in the Piano Quartet in A major. If the Handel variations was an early recording this one is a late one, made two years before her death. This receives a big boned, tensile, powerful reading, warmly phrased but always with dignity.

Schumann and Schubert occupy volume six. She’s not as lugubriously slow as Richter in D960 but she shares that Slavic propensity to distension in the opening movement. It’s a solution I happen to find grossly indulgent, though it’s not in Richter’s league of slowness. Elsewhere she’s rather more conventional. There’s a definable gravity to her slow movement but she doesn’t cultivate much sense of cantabile and her sense of rhythm and tonal depth yield to, say, Curzon almost at every point. The Op.12 Fantasiestücke of Schumann witnesses typical Yudina highs and lows. Next to Bauer she sounds positively brusque in No.4 – it is marked mit humor after all – where she indulges her penchant for tub-thumping. Sometimes phraseology works, at other times brittle tone defeats the object.

Her Mozart [volume 11] features the Rondo K511, full of rubati, and two concertos. K466 dates from 1948 and is over robustly conducted by Gorchakov. Clearly the orchestra wasn't in good estate - the horns are ragged, the strings's portamenti are slack and Yudina is prominently over-recorded into the bargain. She sounds over-eager and fretful. The slow movement is characteristically very slow and it sounds like a lot of upper frequency noise suppression has gone on as well - too much treble has been taken off. The finale certainly runs risks - Yudina was never afraid of those. The companion concerto was K488. I've no idea where the story about Stalin and this concerto arose - maybe from Yudina herself, though it's always trotted out. Let's just discuss the musical merits here. Gauk is in charge, a thankful relief, though he is in somewhat trenchant mood. There's a buzzy sound in this recording which sounds odd and the recording sounds echo-y as well. Her slow movement is phrased with rapt tenderness but once again it is very slow - Yudina never seeks beauty of tone for its own sake but she does conflate slow tempos with piety of expression and that may be troublesome to those unsympathetic to her. The notes speak of her "pretty, rounded tone" - well not here, not in the finale - and they elide the matter of her dynamic rushing at bars.

The Beethoven Concertos [volume 7] were recorded in 1948 and 1950. Sanderling accompanies in the Fourth and she clearly formed a sympathetic relationship with him. Her playing is full of nervous energy, now italicised, now pushing forward with kick-start power, now falling back into deliberation. She plays the overlong Brahms cadenza in the first movement. Sanderling's Leningrad strings sound desiccated - and especially in their statements in the slow movement, though it was clearly a matter of principle not to pursue the marmoreal in the exchanges between orchestra and soloist. The deliberate and maybe studio-influenced lack of weight presents a very different perspective. There's something of a chamber music approach to the finale - powerful dynamic gradients and a surge-and-release aspect as well. The Fifth Concerto with Nathan Rakhlin is apparently heard here in its first release. Rubati are characteristically excessive, the horns' vibrato is as wide as a valley and the sound is congested. There are one or two ill-timed orchestral entries as well. But there's much that is commanding and leonine here, though it will come as no surprise that the central movement is very, very slow once more. There seems to have been an edit before the finale and with her chords cut brittle and short Yudina leads a strongly personalised assault.

The sonatas are contained in volumes eight and nine. Op.90 witnesses constant Yuda-isms of rubati, tempo, timbre and dynamic gradients though the cumulative power and spirit are also magnetically present whatever one's objections. There's something obdurately hit and miss about her take on Op.101. She evokes a rustic vigour in the alla marcia and digs deep for a sinewy fugal passage in the finale though it's prefaced by vertiginous rubati once more. In Op.111 she lacks Solomon’s inwardness and iron control – for all her acknowledged spiritual depth it rather fails to communicate through the microphone. The harsh recording quality certainly is against her but even so her tone colours remain constrained and sometimes rather granitic and self-limited. She's joined for the violin sonata Op.30 No.1 by Maria Kozoloupova whose suspect intonation and very slow vibrato limit enthusiasm. Yudina is at her nimblest here in the finale and it's certainly welcome to hear her in violin sonata repertoire - which is rare on disc for her - though it would have been more rewarding to have heard her with someone of comparable stature.

Volume four couples the Hammerklavier with a sheaf of Brahms Intermezzi. At almost exactly the same time Yudina set down her thoughts on the Hammerklavier Solomon was recording it in London. She can’t help but sound objectified after him; her tone lacks grandeur and solidity and the sonorous power he commanded is not in evidence in her more brittle and less inward-seeking performance. The Intermezzos are variable. Her tone is cold in Brahms for much of the time. And her phrasing in Op.117 No.1 is oddly lumpy. There’s not much sense of the qualifying ma molto appassionato in Op.118 No.1 and where one might have expected her to play more expressively, say in Op.118 No.2 we find, alas, that she doesn’t. Back in 1936 Backhaus was hardly sentimental in his approach but his coloured and tonally shaded response gave it much greater tension and feeling. Yudina’s recording is yet again unhelpful but her tone as such is unvarnished anyway.

The Eroica variations are in the first volume coupled with the Diabelli. The latter is one of her best-known recordings. Yudina’s interest in variation form was stimulated by what is often referred to as her "mathematical" beliefs. I’ve never been quite sure how best to decode these and perhaps it’s best not even to try. I prefer the Eroica performance; the Diabelli is certainly robust and she’s certainly not incapable of pliant phrasing and sagacious control of the smaller and larger details of the architecture. But you will have to follow her into expected areas of eruptive rhythmic gestures and also some departures from the text. The recording itself is very much School of 1961, Soviet style.

Bach occupies volumes 3 and 12. She plays six Preludes and Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier in 12. These are erratic sounding traversals and the recording doesn't help by helping to iron out dynamic contrasts. Still for all the eccentricity there is brilliance - the Prelude in B major especially. Set against that her playing does too often sound stolid and next to Feinberg's Bach she tends to emphasise heaviness. There are fourteen Preludes and Fugues from Book II in volume 3. She’s up and down here as well – measured and pedantic in the Fugue of No.5, gabbled in the Fugue of the First and static alongside Feinberg elsewhere. Better is the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue with some clipped harpsichord-like sonorities and the hyphenated Bach-Liszt with its sonorously projected bass line. Maria Kozoloupova joins her again for the Sonata in E major BWV 1016 where many of the faults are reprised. Yudina's tempo in the slow movement is too unsympathetic for her colleague to sustain.

There’s an enjoyable all-Taneyev disc. His chamber music is grossly underestimated and it’s a pleasure to hear the Op.20 Piano Quartet and the Op.30 Piano Quintet in the hands of Yudina and the Beethoven Quartet. The recordings may be raw – and they were made four years apart in 1957 and 1953 respectively – but playing such as this transcends such limitations. The Quartet has a full measure of expression and control; maybe the fugal passage in the finale is over-academic but the players almost convince you it isn’t. The central movement is the shortest but the most concentrated – it’s a pity Yudina is inclined to over-pound here in her enthusiasm. The Piano Quintet sees the Beethovens fully in place. The recording is subject to over congestion but there’s abrupt power here with a fizzing scherzo and a most warmly voiced and beautiful Largo. The stately tread of the finale is excellently characterised – and one can forgive Taneyev for the slightly prolix nature of the writing here. The players bring real dash and eloquence to these works.

Her Pictures at an Exhibition is undated but contained in volume 14. She venerated Mussorgsky but subjects his work to a panoply of highly debatable intercessions. She plays fast - literally - and loose here with a naggingly and brittly quick Old Castle and a capricious Tuileries. Baba Yaga comes garnished with glissandi and a battery of impeded rhythm. She avoids over use of the pedal but in her cavalier treatment - the polar opposite of, say, Richter's - she tends to leave too much of an impression of her own undoubted commitment to it. Richter by the way couldn't stand Yudina or her performances. She studied alongside Shostakovich and many years later in 1965 recorded his Second Sonata. According to that well known hyphenate, Volkov-Shostakovich, the composer didn't like it. "The tempi are wrong and there's a rather free approach to the text. But perhaps I'm mistaken, I haven't heard the record for a while." The first part of that reported statement is the kind of standard criticism of Yudina that anyone can make. There's nothing especially ingratiating about her playing here but then in my experience that was seldom what she was after. Whatever the comments of the composer may have been it's a valuable document of her playing.

There’s some more Mussorgsky in volume 13. There are some rare morceaux here, warmly and attractively played. Then there’s the tougher meat of Medtner’s Sonata-Triad; very well played. She’s disinclined to linger in the slow movement, taking a good minute less than a current player such as Hamelin but she brings a compensatory fluency and a certain hauteur to it. Apparently each movement was recorded on a different day – or maybe acceptable takes were – which is decidedly odd for 1958. Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives fills up the rest of the disc. Her rubato is very much more distracting - and curiously distancing - than the composer’s own in his 1935 Paris recording, not that he recorded them all. But comparison between them does bear out the point. He’s consistently rather faster and less inclined to any metrical displacements. She doesn’t project No.5 as theatrically and doesn’t replicate his sound palette here or in No.9 or indeed his strong dynamics. She prefers a more mordant heaviness in No.10 – much more emphatic and slower. Her rhythms in No.11 are less sharply etched and in general her reading is more relaxed and less incisive. As with the Medtner this wasn’t recorded in one sitting; they were set down over a three-year period.

A whole disc is given over to her proselytising for new music. In some ways this shows her at her most impressive. She seems unfettered by extraneous demands or expectations; and her rather hard, not always pretty tonal resources meet their equivalence in some of the works. The early Krenek sonata is recorded in a chilly studio acoustic that actually also suits the work. The central march is flecked by more garrulous and indulgent asides and is dispatched with assurance by Yudina. The Stravinsky Sonata and Serenade are also revealing documents; she plays the Romance of the latter with unexpected warmth. Oddly she came late to Bartók, only essaying him in 1961. There are only eight movements from Microcosmos in her selection but her admirers will rightly want to hear them – she really finds the right type of sonority for the Bulgarian Rhythm [No.149]. Whereas she came late to Bartók she knew and admired Hindemith. The sonata for two pianos features her pupil Marina Drozdova and together they make a fine case for the work. It’s rhythmically alive and despite the recording there’s power and grandeur, not least in the brilliantly evocative slow central slow movement. A BMG/Melodiya Yudina release also includes her Berg.

A valuable but difficult series then. Yudina's appeal is often said to be "spiritual" so elements of her live communion with an audience - less happily she read poetry in her recitals as well - are missing. If you seek singing, rounded tone, an effortlessly spun legato, rectitudinous tempi, a measured approach to rubati, and adherence to the text then she is not your pianist. Her courageous approach to the repertoire is best sought in her Stravinsky, Berg, Hindemith, Bartók and Krenek, where her iconoclasm has less cause to damage the music's fabric. But for all the perplexing elements of her playing her granitic single-minded approach is compelling. I'd sample a little at a time.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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