BACH: English Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806; English Suite No. 4 in F Major, BWV 809; 6 French Suites, BWV 812-817 — Tatiana Nikolayeva, piano — Scribendum

by | Sep 5, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: English Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806; English Suite
No. 4 in F Major, BWV 809; 6 French Suites, BWV 812-817 — Tatiana
Nikolayeva, piano

Scribendum SC 028 (2 CDs) 76:51; 69:18  (Distrib. Silver Oak) ****:

Winner of the 1950 Bach Leipzig Piano Competition, Tatiana Nikolayeva
(1924-1994) made a great reputation as a virtuoso-pedagogue in Russia
and in the Soviet bloc countries, but only found fame in the West in
the 1980s with the relaxation of political tensions. A great friend and
champion of composer Dimitri Shostakovich, Nikolayeva shard with
Shostakovich a profound reverence for Bach, although her repertory
extended to the complete Beethoven sonatas, selections from Bartok, the
Tchakovsky Concert Fantasy, as well as Mozart and Hindemith. Sober and
facile, Nikolayeva’s keyboard style has an elegant clarity of line, a
light hand, a vigorous rhythmic propulsion, and a resourceful control
of her dynamic palette.

I find some of Nikolayeva’s Bach idiosyncratic but quite persuasive,
nevertheless. She is no Glenn Gould, trying to balance a piano with a
harpsichord; she accepts the piano’s capacities as a natural extension
of the Bach experience. She communicates a willful subjectivity in her
adjustments to the French Suites, which do permit great flexibility of
accent, dynamics, and embellishments to the performer. The sheer
variety of the gigues, for instance, allows for all kinds of metrical
applications. Although Nikolayeva’s staccato runs are fierce, they
likewise emanate a rounded dynamically shaded tone, so her illusion of
legato or over-legato is of a single cloth, a piercing yet eminently
dance-like effect.

The Prelude to the F Major English Suite is a good case in point, in
which both hands independently merge or separate to create dancing
filigree in polyphonic duet. The use of repetition in the rhythm and
the occasional block harmony creates a  deep organ tone or a high
piccolo, as required. The colossal inward motion moves inexorably to
climactic conclusion, what Rachmaninov called “the point.” Collectors
will likely savor Nikolayeva’s gracious approach the sarabandes, where
she often plays accelerando and diminuendo at once. Her rendering of
the G Major French Suite will recall Emil Gilels for some auditors,
though the motion is less Gallic and more Italianate than that of her
colleague — but no less songful and rife with a searching intelligence.
A smart player of smart music, Nikolayeva remains among the most
satisfying of the Soviet-bred generation of major keyboard virtuosos.

–Gary Lemco

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