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Hyperion Records

APR5670 - Maria Yudina – Beethoven Sonatas
Moscow, Russia
Release date: November 2009
Total duration: 75 minutes 36 seconds

Maria Yudina – Beethoven Sonatas
Andante con variazioni  [7'01]  recorded 1958
Scherzo: Allegro molto  [2'28]  recorded 1958
Marcia funebre sulla morte d'un eroe  [7'50]  recorded 1958
Allegro  [2'23]  recorded 1958
Allegro  [10'11]  recorded 1954
Scherzo: Assai vivace – Presto  [2'31]  recorded 1954
Largo – Allegro – Allegro risoluto  [11'35]  recorded 1954

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Maria Yudina was born in Nevel, near Vitebsk, in what is now Belarus. Her physician father ensured she received a thorough education and when it became apparent she had inherited her mother’s musical gifts, the eight-year-old Maria started piano studies with Frieda Teitelbaum-Levinson, a pupil of Anton Rubinstein. Yudina was only thirteen when she entered the Con­servatoire at St Petersburg (then Petrograd), a city which was enduring famine, disease and considerable political upheaval – conditions which were soon to make a considerable impact upon the young girl. Yudina entered the class of Olga Kalantarova before progressing to study with the legendary Annette Essipova, one of the most famous teachers of her time and whose pupils included Alexander Borovsky, Lev Pouishnov, Sergei Prokofiev and Artur Schnabel. Essipova’s death in 1914 resulted in Yudina moving to the class of Vladimir Drozdov. In 1917, she unexpectedly left the Conservatoire to return to Nevel, ostensibly due to neuritis although the move was almost certainly prompted by her social conscience: Yudina felt compelled to devote herself to the less fortunate as well as to the revolutionary cause. She led a hectic and dangerous existence, teaching orphans, distributing rifles and organizing meetings while simultaneously studying philosophy at the newly opened Proletariat University in Vitebsk. Allied to these intellectual and idealistic quests was a growing and over­whelming religious conviction, to the extent that Yudina embraced Christianity and entered the Russian Orthodox Church in 1919.

When Yudina returned to the Conser­va­toire the following year she discovered Drozdov had emigrated to the USA and so concluded her studies with the building’s foremost piano pedagogue, Leonid Nikolayev. He was to be a major influence on Yudina as well as on her close contemporary (and another highly individual pupil) Vladimir Sofronitsky. In her restless exploration of all matters musical at the Conservatoire, Yudina also worked with Felix Blumenfeld (piano), Vasilly Kalafati (composi­tion), Maximilian Steinberg and Josef Vitol (theory), Ivan Ghandshin (organ), Nikolai Tcherepnin and Emil Cooper (conducting). She also took up philosophy again and added history to her curriculum at Petrograd Univer­sity. Yudina and Sofronitsky graduated in 1921 with recitals given on the same day. Both students included the Liszt Sonata in their programmes and the inevitable differences in their inter­pretations sparked off much discus­sion among the partisan audiences and the press. Both were awarded the Gold Medal, the Anton Rubinstein Prize and a grand piano (these never material­ized). At her graduation cere­mony, it was announced that Yudina had been appointed to the staff of the Conservatoire with immediate effect and within two years she was appointed full professor – an unprece­dented feat.

Yudina made her adult debut in 1921 with a performance of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto in partnership with the newly founded Petrograd (now St Petersburg) Philharmonic Orchestra. She rapidly became a feted figure. Compared to Artur Schnabel and considered by Otto Klemperer to be ‘pure gold’, she could easily have led an elite life as an honoured performing artist and revered teacher had it not been for her quite exceptional individuality. Totally unmaterialistic and unworldly, direct and honest to a fault, Yudina soon embodied everything the communist regime abhorred. Fervently religious, a devoted champion of new (especially Western) music and an intellectual with her own powerful opinions, there was rarely a time when she was not in conflict with the Soviet authorities. Somehow, she even survived after squaring-up to Stalin in the late 1940s. When the dictator asked the Soviet Broadcasting Committee for Yudina’s recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K466, which he had heard her play on the radio the previous evening, there was blind panic: no such recording existed. As saying ‘no’ to Stalin was unthinkable, Yudina was summoned into the recording studio that very night. Although she worked with apparent calm, such was the state of fear and nervousness among the other musicians that it apparently took no fewer than three conductors to complete the project – Sergei Gorchakov was ultimately credited on the records, which were passed to Stalin the following day. A grateful ‘Uncle Joe’ expressed his gratitude by sending Yudina an envelope containing twenty thousand roubles. In reply, she informed the man who had systematically destroyed religious life in the USSR that his generous gift had been passed to her church. She also advised him that she would cease­lessly pray for him, asking the Lord to forgive his many sins.

During a performing career lasting more than half a century Yudina largely avoided the Romantics, though her interpretations of Bach and the Viennese classics were freshly thought out and never ‘tainted’ by tradition or con­vention. Her readings were invariably highly personal; Heinrich Neuhaus and Dmitri Shostakovich, both good friends of Yudina (the latter since he was an adoring fellow student at the St Petersburg Conservatoire) often debated whether her performances were a ‘revelation’ or an ‘abomination’. She performed Russian and Soviet music, including Medtner, Prokofiev, Shaporin, Shcherbachev and Sviridov, although her greatest crusade was the promotion of new Western music. Yudina gave Soviet premieres of works by Bartók, Berg, Hindemith, Honegger, Jolivet, Krenek, Martinu, Messiaen, Milhaud and Schönberg and she was instrumental in getting Stravinsky back to his homeland in 1962, after more than two years of protracted negotiations. Many of these composers feature in her comparatively large discography, all premiere recordings in the Soviet Melodiya catalogue and most of them recorded after Stalin’s death when the ban on ‘modern’ music was less restrictively enforced. Yudina also played a great deal of chamber music, her most illustrious and favoured partners being the Beethoven Quartet.

If her promotion of Western music had originally resulted in her election to the governing body of the Leningrad Society for New Music in 1926, the same cause, allied to her religious convictions, resulted in her dismissal from the Conservatoire three years later. She consequently taught at the Tbilisi Conservatoire (1932–4) and expanded her performing career with travels to Baku, Yerevan and eventually Moscow where, in 1936 and thanks to the influence of Heinrich Neuhaus, she was appointed professor at the Conservatoire. Here her students not only benefited from her encyclopaedic musical knowledge but also received enlightenment on literature, poetry, art and philosophy. She led an impoverished existence – she would empty her pockets to any approaching beggar – and usually stayed with friends, occasionally resorting to sleeping in a bath. It seems she never owned a piano. Yudina remained in Moscow during the war, serving as a nurse in a military hospital while raising funds for the war effort via concerts and recitals. She also flew to besieged Leningrad giving morale-boosting performances for several months.

In 1951 Yudina was dismissed from the Moscow Conservatoire due to her continued promotion of new music – ‘Music of the past is only a museum for me’, she would retort when pressed about her musical sympathies – and her unshakeable religious beliefs. Since 1944 she had also taught at the Gnessin State Musical Institute where she enjoyed a greater degree of freedom than she had at the Conservatoire. However, on the eve of her sixtieth birthday in 1959 she was dismissed due to her ‘age’, although other professors remained there until overtaken by death or senility. During a 1961 recital, she read some poetry by her close friend Boris Pasternak in lieu of an encore and was consequently banned from performing for five years. Unsurprisingly, she never appeared in the West – the Soviet authorities considered such an uncom­pro­mising and eccentric personality ‘unfit’ to venture past the borders of the USSR and its allied countries.

Yudina might have been dismissed from many posts and forced into an itinerant life but she always enjoyed a large and loyal following, one that has grown since her death. Her interpretations are as fiercely independent and intellectually rigorous as the woman herself. They seem to be totally intuitive but usually so convincing that they silence criticism: ‘I play like this because this is how I feel it’, was her constant mantra – an approach vividly apparent in this recording of the Hammerklavier Sonata, despatched in just over 37½ minutes but which miraculously never lacks gravitas or stature. Her interpretations might not always make ‘comfortable’ listening but there is no denying they arise from a burning conviction and blazing sincerity. Beethoven, as heard in this programme of her first studio recordings devoted to his sonatas, was a composer with whom she closely identified – composer and pianist shared many quirky, stubborn traits. Her playing is captivatingly fluid and natural, full of colour and rhythmic vitality and born of supreme confidence, though we are never aware for one moment of technical considera­tions per se.

When Yudina died in Moscow in 1970 a church service and a civil ceremony were scheduled although none of Moscow’s halls happened to be ‘available’. It was thanks to Shostakovich’s intervention that the Conserva­toire allowed the vestibule of the Large Concert Hall to be used. She was buried at night, and as her coffin was about to be lowered into the ground it was discovered that the gravediggers had not prepared a large enough space and so had to be recalled. They completed their work in drunken, disrespectful disarray before the assembled mourners. Even in death, Yudina suffered indignity.

Bryan Crimp © 2009

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