Tatyana Nikolayeva: The 1989 Herodes Atticus Odeon Recital
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Musical Offering, BWV 1079: Ricercar a 3 [7:11]
French Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 [12:02]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 (1837: 1852 version) [26:44]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Miroirs (1904-05): No. 2. Oiseaux tristes [4:07]: No. 3. Une barque sur l'ocean [7:46]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9 (1894) [2:52 + 4:51]
Poème tragique, Op. 34 (1903) [4:24]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Petite Suite: I. In the Monastery (1885) [4:31]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells (1874) [1:38]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
10 Pieces, Op. 12: No. 7. Prelude (1906-13) [2:55]
Tatyana Nikolayeva (piano)
rec. 16 September, 1989, Herodes Atticus Odeon Recital, Athens, Greece

Tatyana Nikolayeva’s Athens recital was given at the Herodes Atticus Odeon, built 161AD (I’ve googled), sited on the slopes of the Acropolis - a suitably powerful arena for a solo piano recital given by the great Russian pianist four years before her death. Given the location it’s inevitable that there should be ambient noise but it’s remarkable how quickly the ear adjusts and focuses simply on the music-making heard that September day in 1989.

There’s no Shostakovich in the recital but there is Bach. The Ricercar a 3 from The Musical Offering starts the programme with musicianship of limpid refinement and compelling, unhurried expressivity. This noble music-making receives applause which is thankfully faded. The French Suite’s opening Allemande is delightfully voiced, its Menuet rhythmically alert, its Air pliantly nimble and the Gigue strongly bass-etched. On this occasion applause breaks out before she’s quite finished.

About Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes I’m less convinced. Happily, she plays one of the posthumous etudes – variation I, inserted between Etudes VII and VIII. There’s clarity and playfulness to the theme itself but elsewhere the approach is somewhat measured and it’s one that favours espressivo over energia and più vivo. If your lodestar here is Cortot, or one of the – very different – inscriptions left behind by Anda, I suspect you will find the Russian pianist somewhat ponderous in places and lacking Schumannesque quicksilver. I did.

She plays two movements from Miroirs. Oiseaux tristes is attractively coloured but again somewhat inclined to the long view and whilst she makes a beautiful sound in Une barque sur l’ocean it lacks the inner rhythmic tension and drama summoned up, in their own different ways, by players such as Cortot (once again) or Perlemuter. Her Scriabin choices are interesting and somewhat unusual. The Prelude and Nocturne for the left hand is a rather early and uncharacteristic piece, stylistically strongly entrenched in late nineteenth-century romanticism. The Poème tragique, by contrast, sports a turbulent Rachmaninovian element and is excellently done, though just missing Sofronitzky’s greater intensity.

She announces some encores. Borodin’s In the Monastery from the Petite Suite is followed, quixotically maybe, by Ballet of the Chicks from Pictures at an Exhibition. Finally, she plays the Prelude, No.7 from Prokofiev’s 10 Pieces, Op.12.

The restoration has been finely done, with good engineering and an admiring sleeve note by Jonathan Summers. If I find the performances inconsistently persuasive maybe that is more reflective of Nikolayeva’s strongly argued musical point of view.

Jonathan Woolf

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