Monday, October 31, 2016

Tatiana Nikolaeva Plays Dmitri Shostakovitch

There is no doubt that Tatiana Nikolaeva's name will always be associated with the genesis and performance tradition of Dmitri Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, opus 87. As a witness to their compositional process, she was often the first to hear them played by the composer and she had a unique opportunity to collaborate with Shostakovich during the preparation of her public premiere of the entire cycle in 1952, as well as on many other occasions. In addition, her editorial commentary to Volume 40 of Shostakovich's Collected Works, which was published in 1980, includes a number of interesting comments by Shostakovich.
The Preludes and Fugues were a part of Nikolaeva's life for more than forty years and she recorded them three times: in Moscow in 1962 and 1987, then in London in 1990, not long before her untimely death in 1992. Unfortunately, the London recording, made for Hyperion (CDA66441/3), is the least successful of the three. It is also unfortunate that her first Moscow recording, which is undoubtedly the best, has never been released in the West (Melodiya LP CM 02377-84; deleted). Luckily, the second Moscow recording from 1987 has been reissued on two labels: Regis, marketed worldwide, and Moscow Studio Archives, available only from vendors within North America.
According to Nikolaeva herself, she made the second recording of the Preludes and Fugues because by 1987 she considered her 1962 recording "outdated in some respects." The 63-year-old veteran of the concert stage wished to capture on record her (then) current, and different, vision of the cycle. Her reconsideration of various interpretive details includes some noticeable tempo modifications. For example : the 1987 version of the C#-minor Prelude has a more moderate tempo (crotchet = 130) than the dazzling speed of her first recording (crotchet = 137). The opposite is true of the second subject of the E-minor Fugue, which she plays at a faster tempo (circa crotchet = 122) right from the beginning (bar 47); in the 1962 recording she establishes the new tempo gradually. Compared to the first recorded variant, the voicing in the fast part of the E-minor Fugue is much clearer. However, in the 1987 recording of the E-minor Prelude and the slow section of the Fugue the tone loses its warmth and the multi-coloured palette of sonorities disappears.
In the 1987 recording of the G-sharp-minor Prelude, the ritenutos are not as extreme and the tempo (crotchet = 77) is not as slow as that of 1962 version (crotchet = 74). We read in Nikolaeva's commentary on this Prelude that in the autograph Shostakovich had originally marked this Prelude p and crotchet = 104, but after a concert performance, changed the markings to mf and increased the tempo to crotchet = 138. From this, we can guess that Shostakovich was not happy with Nikolaeva's tempo, but evidently he failed to convince her: in the 1990 Hyperion version the tempo is even slower (crotchet = 74). Despite this, both of the Moscow recordings are exemplary as far as voicing is concerned and both have plenty of colour and fresh harmonic "discovery." I like these versions no less than Ashkenazy's (Decca 466 066-2; reviewed in DSCH N° 11) or Scherbakov's (Naxos 8.554745-46; reviewed in DSCH N° 15) renditions of the same Prelude.
Nikolaeva's 1987 recording of the D-minor Prelude is very romantic, though at times her rubati and forced tone seem exaggerated. Yet, as a prologue to the final monumental Fugue, it convinces me as much as Ashkenazy's more understated version. In the slow part of the D-minor Fugue, Nikolaeva's exceedingly slow tempo (crotchet = 73) is close to that of Shostakovich's own recording (crotchet = 72; EMI 7243 5 62646 2 5 or Angel 7243 5 62648 2 3; reviewed in DSCH N° 20). However, while the composer is able to balance one extreme with the other by intensifying the dynamics and speeding up relentlessly throughout the next sections of the Fugue, Nikolaeva is not. Her frequent piano subito, over-careful accelerandos, and often dry pedalling (bars 262-267) interrupt the continuity and diminish the force of ever growing musical 'lava'. Ashkenazy's version is much stronger in building up and balancing the symphonic proportions of this Fugue. Still, Nikolaeva's 1987 recording is more successful than her Hyperion take of the same piece.
Generally speaking, in technically demanding sections, particularly in octave passages (for example in the G-major and Db-major Preludes or the D-minor and G-sharp minor Fugues) Nikolaeva appears much weaker than Ashkenazy. However, when chordal or octave technique is not involved, her fingerwork is accurate and brilliant: listen for instance to the A-minor Prelude and Fugue, the E-major Fugue, or the Bb-major Prelude.
Ironically, Nikolaeva's physical "shortcoming" - smaller hands - leads her to more interesting solutions in text distribution and voicing and actually makes her playing bolder and clearer than that of many pianists blessed with larger hands; take, for example, the C-sharp-minor Fugue or bars 79-87 of the C-major Fugue. Her way of handling the often-uncomfortable textures of the Preludes and Fugues can help hundreds of pianists to deal with similar problems. Thus, Nikolaeva continues to be not only a respected master-pianist but also an amazing teacher.
As long as Nikolaeva's 1962 recording remains unavailable, the 1987 set is your best chance to become acquainted with her idiosyncratic style and to hear what kind of musician she was. While there is no difference in the sound quality between the two labels here, I definitely prefer the three different essays that accompany the Moscow Studio Archives CDs, which provide more information on both Shostakovich and Nikolaeva than the superficial notes in the Regis set. Moscow Studio Archives' essays are well researched and beautifully written by Lawrence Cosentino, who lovingly calls Nikolaeva a "kindly keyboard knight". I could not agree more.
Sofia Moshevich

Source :

Tatiana Nikolaeva
Dmitri Shostakovitch

24 Preludes et Fugues Op. 87


Cd. 1

1 N° 1 In C Major  5:31
2 N° 2 In A Minor  2:28
3 N° 3 In G Major  4:04
4 N° 4 In E Minor  8:49
5 N° 5 In D Major  3:39
6 N° 6 In B Minor  9:36
7 N° 7 In A Major  3:34
8 N° 8 In F-Sharp Minor  10:04
9 N° 9 In E Major  4:32
10 N° 10 In C-Sharp Minor  7:32


Cd. 2

1 N° 11 In B Major  3:50
2 N° 12 In G-Sharp Major  8:54
3 N° 13 In F-Sharp Major  9:44
4 N° 14 In E-Flat Minor  7:09
5 N° 15 In D-Flat Major  5:13
6 N° 16 In B-Flat Minor  12:00


Cd. 3

1 N° 17 In A-Flat Major  6:01
2 N° 18 In F Minor  6:14
3 N° 19 In E-Flat Major  5:06
4 N° 20 In C Minor  11:07
5 N° 21 In B-Flat Major  4:38
6 N° 22 In G Minor  8:15
7 N° 22 In G Minor  6:52
8 N° 24 In D Minor  13:13

Tatiana Nikolaeva - p
Recorded 1987


glinka21 said...

The earlier of the two Melodiya recordings has been re-released on Doremi 7991-3. Sound is only adequate. Doremi does no audio remastering above and beyond reproducing whatever source they get their hands on.

Steven said...

Any chance of a re-up Mel?

I heard part of this on the radio this week and was blown away...

Melanchthon said...

Angelo said...


This is my favorite Shostakovich opus.

There is a very good version played by Keith Jarrett.

Pedro del Castillo Alonso said...

Very very good! Thanks Mel

Sandflyer said...

Many thanks for these.
@Angelo - Jarrett's version may have its merits, but Nikolayeva is the master here. This version is by far better than a yet later recording she did for Hyperion. I also like the drier sound of the piano on the Melodiya recording than I do on the Hyperion.

Angelo said...

@Sandflyer, I agree. Nikolayeva is the best interpreter of this masterpiece.

I remembered Jarrett because this is mainly a Jazz blog, after all.

Here is a link to video archives of Nikolayeva playing Op.87:

Sandflyer said...

Mainly a jazz blog, you say.... ;-)
Well, I've found some classical treats here much tastier than the jazz :-)

Steven said...

Magnificent. Thank you.