Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International

Tatiana Nikolayeva (1924-1993), usually remembered both as a Bach specialist and as an authoritative and authentic voice in Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, ventured much further afield. Her discography includes concertos by Bartók, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and several of her countrymen. She was a composer and recorded her own Piano Concerto. A famous set within the Soviet Union was her traversal of the complete Beethoven sonatas. We should not forget a 1970s recording of Medtner’s Third Piano Concerto—let’s have that reissued please. She was a highly respected Soviet artist and a player of considerable power and subtlety. In the case of the present disc it is perhaps inevitable that the impression that lasts is of her thunderous attack. This should not however efface the poetic eloquence to be heard in the middle movement of the Second Concerto and the Andante Cantabile of the Concert Fantasy.

These are the first recordings of the Concert Fantasy and the first recording of the unexpurgated version of the Second Piano Concerto. For years that work was known only in Alexander Siloti’s bowdlerised version. While there are some moments in the first movement where the grand manner begins to sound vacuous they are transient and overall it is best to hear the work as Tchaikovsky originally intended. It is an epic work of imperial mien and grandiloquent rhetoric. Its ideas are not quite top-drawer Tchaikovsky but they do have some staying power. Anosov (Rozhdestvensky’s father) and Nikolayeva are blessed with clean sound achieved courtesy of Brian Crimp and transcribed from Melodiya LPs. The transfers have been well done with all rustle and clicks removed yet with a wholly believable intrinsic sound preserved. The piano tone is very secure and stable if slightly boxy. That stability is evident even at those exposed moments where the only thing to be heard is the bass note decay of the piano. The original engineers zoom in on particular instruments but the effect overall is very satisfying. Some soloistic moments such as the dialogue of flute and piano in the first movement are very poetic indeed. In the second movement—including the long piano trio contribution—the playing stays passionate and only just the right side of a sob. The finale combines grandeur and frivolity recalling at times the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 2. Nikolayeva spills scree-loads of notes with the best just as Tchaikovsky prescribed. The orchestra proves itself superior and a match for Ormandy’s Philadelphia in weight and unanimity. Their sound is remarkable also for the passion with which its playing is irradiated. As for the Concert Fantasy, this is the least convincing of Tchaikovsky’s works for piano and orchestra. Here the effect is further weakened by an audio image that is muffled and afflicted with spalling distortion. Its second section (tr. 5) sounds better when the playing is intimate but returns to sub par when the full orchestra enters. As a performance it’s certainly fiery but the overall effect of the work is more effectively conveyed on Peter Katin’s CFP recording with Boult.

On this evidence I hope that this series ‘has legs’ and that Brian Crimp has access to yet more Soviet LPs.

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