Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise in C sharp minor op.26/1 [7:49] (1), Mazurka in A minor op.67/4 [2:49] (2), Mazurka in C sharp minor op.30/4 [3:47] (3), Fantaisie in F minor op.49 [12:58] (4), Mazurka in C sharp minor op.41/1 [4:05] (5), Mazurka in E minor op.41/2 [2:20] (6), Mazurka in B major op.41/3 [1:23] (7), Mazurka in A flat major op.41/4 [2:07] (8), Nocturne in F major op.15/1 [4:08] (9), Waltz in A flat op.34/1 [4:48] (10), Nocturne in C minor op.48/1 [6:30] (11), Waltz in A minor op.34/2 [5:03] (12), Scherzo no.3 in C sharp minor op.39 [7:39] (13), Waltz in D flat major op.64/2 [1:59] (14), Waltz in C sharp minor op.64/2 [3:45] (15)
Vera Gornostaeva (piano)
rec. live 22 November 1974 (1, 4, 12), 3 October 1979 (13), 10 November 1981 (5, 7, 9, 10), 6 March 1984 (11, 14, 15), 1989 (2, 3, 6, 8, from a private collection), Great Hall of the Moscow State Conservatoire
LP CLASSICS 1002 [71:04]

“Discovering a legend”, they call it. The basic thing about a legend, I always thought, was that everyone knew about it by name if not up close. Vera Gornostaeva (b. 1929) was a new one on me, but we all have our blind spots. Prepared to find the Internet littered with information and comments on a living legend known to all but me, I duly did my bit of googling. I only found a Wikipedia article virtually identical to the notes accompanying this disc, so presumably put up by the same enthusiast, and some info on the present CD.
Vera Gornostaeva studied at the Moscow State Conservatoire with Heinrich Neuhaus, who is actually the perfect example of what I understand by a legend: a name most people know as the famed teacher of Richter and Gilels, but a pianist whose actual discs mostly circulate among connoisseurs. She began teaching at the Moscow State Conservatoire herself in 1959 and had a heavy recital schedule from the mid-50s through to the mid-90s when she decided to retire and dedicate herself entirely to teaching and adjudicating competitions, a career which she still continues.
However. She never joined the communist party and vaunted the fact publicly, she spoke openly of her religious beliefs and she associated with people like Pasternak. Back in Stalin’s days she would have quietly disappeared. In the relatively – only relatively – benign dictatorships that followed, there were plenty who got a spell of the Gulag for less than what she did. These were usually men with sufficiently high reputations in the West to cause embarrassment to the Soviet government. Gornostaeva was unknown in the West and just remained so. Blacklisted for twenty years and thus forbidden to accept engagements abroad, she was left free to give recitals, up to a hundred a year, in the farthest-flung corners of the Soviet Union. By the time the Iron Curtain fell her concert career was – by her own choosing – at an end. She has nevertheless given master classes in many countries of the world, and is particularly venerated in Japan, where she was introduced on the recommendation of Rostropovich.
Gornostaeva apparently recorded quite extensively for Melodiya in the days of LP. However, the series on LP Classics which begins with the present issue has another source. A vast number of live performances were recorded for television and radio, none of them previously released. By agreement with Gosteleradiofond a selection is now seeing the light of day.
Artur Rubinstein is alleged to have said, on hearing Richter for the first time, words to the effect that there was no particular beauty of tone that struck him, and yet, as the performance progressed, he found a tear falling down his face. I say alleged since it has been doubted that he ever said such a thing, and on the face of it, this would seem an unlikely reaction to Richter.
But it might be your reaction to Gornostaeva. You might find the first piece on the disc unduly stately for a polonaise, but then how beautifully turned are the gently answering phrases, how generously it builds up. You might think the middle section of this same piece excessively slow, that “meno mosso” doesn’t mean turning it into a nocturne. But then how ardently it all sings, it would take a heart of stone not to capitulate.
And so it goes on, really. If she sometimes leaves you doubting when a piece starts – some of the mazurkas seem initially a little slow – within a few bars she has you following her every move. More than with a pianist, I’d compare her with the sort of singer who, once you’re hooked on their voice, you just can’t turn a deaf ear, whatever they sing, even however they sing it. The abiding impression is of a great richness of spirit. I’ve already used the word generous, but it came to mind continually.
If I’ve given the idea she is inclined to be slow, then the A flat waltz has wonderful high spirits and the tiny B major mazurka has its proper verve. However, just to prove that this is an imperfect world, I thought the scherzo got a humdrum performance and, once the spell had been broken, the D flat waltz struck me as sticky in the lyrical sections and the C sharp minor waltz rather fidgety.
But I’m left in no doubt that this is a pianist we should all discover. In times of conformity, eccentricity, personality cults, technical exhibitionism and heaven knows what else, Gornostaeva offers a free-soaring spirit and a dedication to musical values that shine like a beacon. The recordings are reasonable for their date and provenance. I’d dearly like to know what editions she uses. Variants from my mix of the Paderewski and Henle editions are numerous, especially dynamics but sometimes notes, including a fascinating C flat in the polonaise.
Christopher Howell

Gornostaeva offers a free-soaring spirit and a dedication to musical values that shine like a beacon.