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Legendary Soviet Pianists in East Germany
rec. 1953-1960
MELOCLASSIC MC1049 [73:37 + 72:36]

I found this particular release from Meloclassic especially interesting, as it features two pianists I wasn’t familiar with.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Nina Yemelyanova (1912-1998) before. She was a pupil of Samuil Feinberg. Unlike her contemporary fellow pianists Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter, she confined her career to Warsaw Pact countries and parts of the Soviet Union. From 1938 she took up a teaching position at the Moscow Conservatory, remaining in the post for rest of her life, becoming dean of the piano department from 1955 until 1965. She’s hardly known outside Russia and her discography is meagre.

The 1953 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto is sound-wise rather muddied, with not much orchestral detail emerging from the congestion. Nevertheless, the piano is well profiled in the mix. The work is the ideal vehicle for a pianist’s virtuosity, and Yemelyanova’s credentials in this regard don’t disappoint; she possesses both stamina and strength. Abendroth is at his finest in the slow movement, which truly tugs at the heartstrings, with the finale having ample rhythmic bite.

Tatiana Goldfarb (1914-1964) was born in Odessa, and studied piano initially at the Odessa Conservatory with Berta Reingbald. In 1937 she won a prize at the 3rd International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. From 1939 to 1941 she was a student at the Moscow Conservatoire with Heinrich Neuhaus. Post war, she confined her activities to the Eastern Bloc countries, and taught at the Tbilisi Conservatory from 1958 until her death.

Goldfarb tackles the Tchaikovsky First. It’s a compelling, full-blooded account. Konwitschny proves a sensitive and supportive collaborator. The slow movement overflows with rapt intensity, and the third movement has sufficient bite and tenacity, certainly packing a punch.

Lev Oborin (1907-1974), a student of Konstantin Igumnov at the Moscow Conservatory, came to prominence after winning the first International Chopin Piano Competition in 1927. Many will be familiar with him as a duo partner of David Oistrakh, the two worked together from 1935. Between 1941 and 1963 he played in a piano trio with David Oistrakh and the cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky. Aram Khachaturian dedicated his Piano Concerto to him.

Here Oborin performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto 5 in a performance from Berlin in October 1960. Herbert Kegel brings heft and forward momentum to the first movement’s opening tutti in preparation for the soloist’s entrance. Oborin is a first-rate Beethoven player with a flawless technique. There’s marvelous interplay between soloist and orchestra throughout. The pianist’s gossamer touch in the central Adagio is captivating, and Kegel provides just the right amount of gentle support, maintaining an effortless melodic flow. The transition to the finale is seamless. The spirited finale sets the seal on a riveting performance.

Tatyana Nikolayeva (1924-1993) was born in Bezhitz and began playing the piano at the age of three. She eventually went on to study with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatoire. In 1947 she began touring the Soviet Union, and three years later in 1950 won the Leipzig Bach Festival, where she met and formed a friendship with Shostakovich. He wrote his 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 for her. Later, perestroika enabled the pianist to tour more extensively, opening up Europe, America and Japan to her wonderful artistry. She also took up a teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory in 1959. She died in San Francisco after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage whilst giving a concert.

The best is saved till last. Nikolayeva’s Mozart performance alone is worth the price of the set. She’s fortunate to have the backing of the Staatskapelle Dresden and Otmar Suitner, a distinguished Mozart conductor. Added to that, the sound quality of this 1960 radio studio recording is superb, with an ideal balance struck between soloist and orchestra. The Concerto has some imaginative, colourful woodwind writing, which Suitner points up to striking effect. The slow movement’s tragic character makes a notable contrast with the outer movements. The sunny finale is particularly well done, with the horn calls vividly depicting the hunt.

The two 1960s broadcasts are in better sound that the earlier ones. The accompanying liner provides biographical portraits of the pianists, which is very useful as the internet yields very little information on Yemelyanova and Goldfarb.

Stephen Greenbank 

CD 1 [73:37]
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No 3 in D Minor, Op 30
Nina Yemelyanova ∙ piano
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Hermann Abendroth ∙ conductor
Recorded · 15 November 1953 · Berlin · Finanzministerium · Rundfunk der DDR · Radio Studio Recording

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No 1 in B-flat Minor, Op 23
Tatyana Goldfarb ∙ piano
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Franz Konwitschny ∙ conductor
Recorded · 21 April 1955 · Berlin · Finanzministerium · Rundfunk der DDR · Radio Studio Recording

CD 2 [72:36]
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major, Op 73
Lev Oborin ∙ piano
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Herbert Kegel ∙ conductor
Recorded · 23 October 1960 · Berlin · Funkhaus Nalepastraße · Rundfunk der DDR · Radio Studio Recording

MOZART: Piano Concerto No 22 in E-flat Major, KV 482
Tatyana Nikolayeva ∙ piano
Staatskapelle Dresden
Otmar Suitner ∙ conductor
Recorded · 30 October 1960 · Dresden · Kongreßhalle · Rundfunk der DDR · Radio Studio Recording

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