[These were written recently for Classical Record Collector.]

Shostakovich: Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. Tatiana Nikolayeva (piano). Medici Arts 3085248 (164 minutes, NTSC); taped BBC Studios, 21-30/12/92.

Nikolayeva was intimately connected with the creation of this music. Shostakovich was a member of the jury which awarded Nikolayeva first prize at the 1950 Leipzig Bach Festival competition, and they played together in a performance of the Concerto for Three Pianos (with Pavel Serebriakov). Later, as Shostakovich wrote the music over a period of four months, he played the pieces for Nikolayeva. She gave the world premiere performance of the complete series in 1952 and continued to play them for the remaining four decades of her life. She made three audio recordings of the complete set: Melodiya S 02377/84 (under the composer’s direct supervision, never on CD), Melodiya 74321 19849 2 on CD, and, almost simultaneously, Hyperion CDA66441/3.

These video performances were recorded in a studio (BBC Scotland if I caught a hint correctly) without an audience. The camera work, sound quality, and picture quality are all first rate. While some of Nikolayeva’s late CDs were disappointing, she is in wonderful form here, playing with all the color, power, and subtlety which characterize her best work. Other pianists may have provoked more drama in this music, but Nikolayeva’s musical directness combined with her very wide range of resources make this disc a mesmerizing experience, one to which I am sure I will return often.

The brief bonus documentary, using the same performances, shows some tantalizing glimpses of Shostakovich himself at the piano. If the clip of the Piano Quintet comes from a film of the complete performance, that urgently needs to be published. Medici Arts’ video and audio processing are admirable, but the formatting makes it impossible to play more than one chapter at a time unless one starts from the beginning with “Play All.”

–Leslie Gerber

Mozart Sonatas, K. 282, 545, & 310. Chopin: 13 Etudes. Sviatoslav Richter (piano). Medici Arts 3085208 (90 mins; NTSC); taped Barbican Centre, London, 29/3/89.

Richter set the BBC crew a daunting task. Informed shortly before the concert that it was to be filmed, he insisted that no cameras could be visible to him and that the only lighting during his playing was a 40 watt bulb aimed at the music. Technically, the results are a triumph. There may be a lot of black around the edges, but Richter’s hands and face are seen clearly throughout. After the first movement of K. 282, with the camera unfortunately pointed right at the light bulb, there are no distractions from the playing and the music. The sound recording is quite good and, in the Chopin, hints better than most at Richter’s real dynamic and tonal ranges as I remember them from concerts.

Neither of these composers was strongly identified with Richter, but he played plenty of music by both and often very well. While the Mozart Sonatas are uninformed by 20th century musicology—Russia was quite backward musicologically when Richter was a student—he plays the music without inflated romanticism and with a modest range of dynamics. As was his custom, he takes every marked repeat. One could even wish for more passion and dynamic contrast in the opening movement of K. 310, but otherwise this is thoroughly satisfactory.

Richter played this particular selection of Chopin Etudes numerous times, and we have a live performance of them from Japan on CD. At 74, he still had plenty of technique to give us thrilling, colorful versions of these pieces. There’s no use regretting that he played only these Etudes; Richter always played only what he identified with.

Three bonus items are misleadingly labeled only, “Broadcast by BBC on 28 October 1969.” They were actually filmed in the 1950s and are included in the Soviet documentary Young Richter on Soviet TV. Richter plays Rachmaninov’s Etude-Tableau in F Sharp Minor, Op. 39, No. 3 in front of an audience and Chopin’s Etudes Op. 10 Nos. 4 and 12 in a home setting. The playing here is stupendous. Op. 10 No. 4 is rattled off at an insanely fast tempo which makes it more a party stunt than good Chopin, but it’s as impressive a party stunt as you could imagine.

Alas, Medici Arts’ disc formatting is unhelpful. Except in “Play All,” every chapter stops at its end instead of continuing on to the next. If you want to see K. 310 or a group of Chopin Etudes together, you have to start at the beginning and skip forward a chapter at a time to the beginning of what you want, and even then there are noticeable gaps between the chapters. With so little Richter video on the market–apparently this is the first complete recital of his released on video outside Japan–this is a valuable issue, but it really should be redone.

Leslie Gerber

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