Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 12 in A?,
op. 26, “Funeral March”;
No. 28 in A,
No. 29 in B?,
op. 106, “Hammerklavier”
Maria Yudina (pn)
APR 5670, mono (76: 44)
Here is another installment in APR’s ongoing “Russian Piano Tradition” series. Bryan Crimp’s informative notes relate the familiar details of Yudina’s eventful life, characterized as it was by
fierce artistic, intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity in the face of virtually non-stop political persecution and interference.
Yudina’s catholic repertoire, from Bach to the Second Viennese School and Stravinsky, has been well served on CD: a major edition on the Russian label Vista Vera (including the performances offered here); other overlapping releases on Melodiya, Russian Disc, etc.; a volume in the defunct Philips “Great Pianists” series; and a bargain box in Brilliant Classics’ valuable if uneven “Historic Russian Archives” series.
The performances here are Melodiya studio sessions from the 1950s. Op. 26 initially conveys a rather plain, even dogged impression—the Theme and Variation 1 have a certain rugged integrity, a deliberate refusal to ingratiate, with dynamic and articulative contrasts underplayed to yield an effect of sustained
But then Variation 2 takes off like the proverbial bat out of hell, and the abrupt contrasts in tempo and character persist for the remainder of the movement. The result is a far less unified, or cumulative, effect over the whole variation set than we are used to today. The Scherzo has a nice rhythmic snap, and manages intelligently “breathing” phrasing at the very fast tempo. The Funeral March is played with great inwardness—a limping, halting quality that one senses had profound personal meaning for the deeply religious Yudina. The finale then finds the scintillating lightness of touch so conspicuously missing from much of the first movement.
The first movement of op. 101 impresses by its great intelligence of conception, Yudina’s pronounced tempo flexibility a completely convincing response to the music’s paradoxical combination of rhapsodic freedom on the one hand—supremely vivid phrase-sculpting here—and the tersest compositional economy on the other. Again the slow movement has an arresting expressive inwardness that would alone be worth the price of the disc. The contrapuntal finale demonstrates just how impressive Yudina’s technique really was; although these are studio recordings, she often seemed to live by Schnabel’s maxim “safety last!” A telling example occurs in the repeated exposition, where Yudina uses the second time through to correct a few noticeable fluffs the first time—no question of simply using the more accurate second version both times! This is a real
and again one notes her willingness to use tempo flexibility in the service of both expressive characterization and long-range building of structure. Simply tremendous!
In the “Hammerklavier,” Yudina’s first movement (complete with the structurally essential exposition repeat) is one of the closest on record to Beethoven’s well-nigh impossible metronome marking (placing her in the august company of Gieseking, Gulda, Nat, Pollini, Rosen, Schnabel, Peter Serkin, Solomon, and Wild, to name a few). More than any other version I know, her performance brings out the
lightness that dominates so much of this movement. But again it is her playing of the Adagio sostenuto that makes the deepest impression—emphatically not through any equation of profundity with slowness, for at a little over 13 minutes her timing is the quickest I have ever heard! (Anything under 15:00 is unusual, and Gulda, in his 1967 version on Amadeo/Brilliant Classics, is next quickest at 13:42. At the other extreme, Kuerti clocks in at a mind-numbing 25 minutes!) How does she achieve this? Not in her tempo for the main theme, which is closer to MM 72 than Beethoven’s 92. This is deceptive, however, for the rest of the exposition is quite unlike any other performance: She plays the transition (bar 26,
con grand’ espressione
as marked, but in a harsh
throughout, imbuing the music with a bitterly lamenting character, culminating in a frenzied acceleration into the second theme (bar 45, D Major), which she then treats to a further acceleration; the effect is wild, hallucinatory, almost Scriabinesque—yet somehow it all works. The rest of the movement proceeds in similarly volatile fashion; as in the other two slow movements, the playing conveys an extraordinary sense of a deeply personal meaning beyond words. This simply must be heard. Again she follows with a fugal finale of ferocious concentration, yet with a less unyielding effect than usual owing to her characteristic expressive use of tempo flexibility.
Melodiya’s recordings are clear and well balanced, but the vibrancy and immediacy of the original sound has been somewhat dulled by excessive noise reduction. The transfers are also at a slightly higher-than-usual pitch throughout, though not enough to be bothersome. Vista Vera’s remasterings of the same sonatas (though not in the same coupling) are not ideal, either; they are also filtered more than I like, though I prefer the sharper tang of their piano tone, and their slightly lower (i.e., normal) pitch. However, I don’t want to exaggerate the problem; the ear quickly adjusts, and APR’s sound is more than adequate to convey the extraordinary artistry on offer. If this particular coupling appeals, the disc can be recommended with confidence. One way or another, you really must hear this “Hammerklavier.”
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano no 28 in A major, Op. 101 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Maria Yudina (Piano)
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 1958
Venue: Moscow, Russia
Length: 18 Minutes 17 Secs.
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