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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 (1852 version) [26:44]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-11937)
Miroirs: Nos.2 and 3 [11:53]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op.9 [7:42]
Poème tragique, Op.34 [4:24]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Petite Suite I. In the Monastery [4:31]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells [1:38]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
10 Pieces, Op.12: No.7. Prelude [2:55]
rec. Herodes Atticus Odeon, Athens, Greece, 16 September, 1989

For anyone who had never seen her the first sight of Tatyana Nikolayeva coming onto the platform to play when she was at the very pinnacle of her career must have taken them aback for here was a small rotund little woman with her white hair in a bun who resembled one’s grandmother rather than a concert pianist of international standard for whom Shostakovich wrote his 24 Preludes and Fugues when she had won the Bach Competition in Leipzig and who so impressed the composer and jury member with her ability to play any of Bach’s 48 from memory. In fact she became the greatest Bach interpreter of her generation including his entire keyboard works together with a vast repertoire which she could call upon that ranged from Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Stravinsky right through to Bartók to name but a few. Few pianists have included such disparate composers in their programmes, often preferring to concentrate on specific composers or periods. With a mother who was herself a professional pianist she was able to study with her teacher, the great Alexander Goldenweiser from the age of 13, eventually graduating from the Moscow Conservatory. With the Second World War intervening she only completed her studies there in 1947 and was 26 when she took Shostakovich by surprise in Leipzig in 1950. That event resulted in a friendship with Shostakovich that lasted for 25 years until his death in 1975 and lead her to become as unique an interpreter of his music as she was of Bach’s. Teaching at The Moscow Conservatory from 1959 and becoming a professor there in 1965 meant that her regular international career only took off in the 1980s yet for the few years left to her until her death in 1993 she was still able to have played in no fewer than 35 countries delighting audiences who were literally bowled over by her staggering pianism.

What strikes the listener in whatever she is playing is how deceptively simple she makes everything sound; there is never a hint of struggle in her interpretations which sound completely natural. Listening to her playing Bach leaves one with a feeling of timelessness giving an impression that the music could have been written recently rather than over 300 years ago and that facility in the true sense of the word telescopes time in such a way that one is unaware of the composer leaving the listener to concentrate solely on the music ‘unencumbered’ by its origins. This ability extends to all her playing and makes for a most memorable experience. Her playing of Schumann’s 1852 version of his Symphonic Etudes (including one of the posthumously published ones) is illuminating and her playing magisterial exemplifying the truly symphonic nature of the work. The delicacy she brings to two of Ravel’s Miroirs is remarkable with the lamenting sounds of birds in no.2 brought startlingly to life while Ravel’s musical description of Une barque sur l’océan is again so brilliantly focussed that one could be in no doubt as to where we are with the gentle lapping of the sea against the boat beautifully depicted.

She closed her recital with compatriot Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op.9 and Poème tragique, Op.34., and her luminous performance exemplifies the other-worldly nature of the composer as mystic, the notes sounding like drops of water gently falling into a pond in the first of the works while the tragic nature of the second is crystal clear with her bringing to Scriabin the same penetrating and perceptive intelligence as she did to everything she played. Generous to a fault she gave three encores each totally different in nature: evocative Borodin, deliciously humorous Mussorgsky and scintillating Prokofiev, each making you wish to hear more of her interpretations of whichever composer’s music she was playing at the time.

The venue for the concert was the Herodes Atticus Odeon which is situated on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. Built in 167 AD it seats 5000 and I very much doubt there were any that were empty when the recital was held in 1989. A vast outside space the recording is a tribute to the original engineer as well as to those who remastered it, which included him. One is totally unaware of the fact the recital was held in the open for there is an intimacy which makes it sound as if Tatyana Nikolayeva is playing for you alone. This is the first release of this recording and is one to cherish.

Steve Arloff

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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