Notes and Editorial Reviews
Polonaise in c?,
Mazurkas: in a,
Fantasy. Nocturnes: in F,
op. 34/1–2; op. 64/1–2.
Scherzo No. 3
Vera Gornostaeva (pn)
LP 1002 (71:04) Live: Moscow 1974–89
Vera Gornostaeva is a highly engaging Chopin player. I have listened to her CD five times thus far, and have not tired of it. She produces a big sound that possesses a high impact but is never coarse. Her tempos are free, yet with restraint—one always is aware of an intellectual basis for what she does. Nevertheless, her Chopin exhibits considerable warmth; that’s what makes Gornostaeva so easy to listen to. Her technique is huge. Although these are live performances, I scarcely was aware of a single finger slip. That her independence of Soviet ideology prevented her from being given access to the West by the former regime is no doubt a great loss to non-Soviet concertgoers. It is gratifying to know that LP Classics plans further releases in its Gornostaeva series, now that the pianist has retired from public performance.
The recital begins with a most distinctive reading of the op. 26/1 polonaise. Gornostaeva turns it into a painting in a Polish setting, replete with rich hues and textures. The dance form of the polonaise here is idealized into a noble melodic motif. Distances near and far in this painterly portrayal are achieved through dynamic gradations. Gornostaeva’s mazurkas emphasize lyricism, with playing of great affection. These mazurkas are warm and mellifluous, although generally lacking something in rhythmic spikiness. Gornostaeva interprets the title of the Fantasy to mean “fantastical,” with the colorations of a gothic novel. She employs much rubato here in the grand tradition, building sequences of climaxes that never become mechanical. Her nocturnes display considerable passion, with huge dynamic contrasts. They are pervaded by a general melancholy. Gornostaeva’s left hand in the nocturnes illustrates darkness, both through the lack of light and spiritually, too. These nocturnes bear some similarity in approach to those of another noted Russian pianist, Elisabeth Leonskaja.
Gornostaeva shines in the waltzes. She exhibits a wonderful realization of the public aspect of the waltz, while offering a complete portrayal of the composer’s personality. Her waltzes are comparable to those of Nikita Magaloff and Witold Malcuzynski. Gornostaeva gives the most overt proof of her virtuosity here. Her “Minute” Waltz is especially stylish. She reminds us that a Chopin waltz is as hard to perform, in its way, as a Beethoven sonata. Her rendition of the Third Scherzo possesses a splendid rhythmic lift and filigree fingerwork. It’s a big-boned performance of a sort that’s rarely heard anymore. The sound engineering, from different occasions in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, is variable but never unpleasant. Listeners interested in Chopin playing of lesser-known Soviet-era performers (in the West, at least) also might investigate Naum Starkman, who recorded a splendid CD of Chopin for Pope Music in 1996. It is clear that Vera Gornostaeva occupies a unique place in the history of Chopin interpretation in the 20th century. Her CD is not necessarily for those who must have a single top recommendation, but is rather for people who value the individual personality of the performing artist. This is Chopin of taste, power, and persuasiveness.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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