Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pictures at an Exhibition.
Moment musicaux in e.
Romeo & Juliet:
Dance of the Girls with Lilies
Vera Gornostaeva (pn)
LP CLASSICS 1005 (68:15)
There is simply no telling how many musical treasures are collecting dust in various radio archives and similar institutions
waiting to be unearthed. I know how rewarding unearthing a gem can be, as I’ve had a few occasions to come across something really musically (if not monetarily) valuable during the course of my decades as a record dealer. The present recital by Russian pianist Vera Gornostaeva must rank among the significant discoveries of such desiderata in the past decade, as it gives us a further perspective on the artistry of a pianist, under-recorded, and forbidden to travel in the West by Soviet authorities due to her political and religious convictions.
In his interview with Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova, the founders of the LP Classics label, Barry Brenesal (35:4) agrees with them that Gornostaeva was at her best in the concert hall as opposed to the studio. Although I am at the disadvantage of not having heard her studio recordings, on the evidence of this new release of an almost-complete live recital from April 26, 1959, I am hardly going to disagree with their assessment: This is playing of the first order by an artist of unquestionably major stature, as I hope to be able to document throughout this review.
Gornostaeva’s reading of
sits squarely in the grand tradition of Russian and Soviet performers of the era. She convincingly sets each of the pictures within the framework of the whole, so that one hears the piece as an entity, and not a series of separate smaller works. The tempi of the promenades, for example—with the exception of the fourth, which has to be played more leisurely—are all uniformly brisk, and at virtually the same tempo. She also eschews overly-staccato playing in the portions of the piece where phrases are marked as such, giving more gravitas to the piece (mind you, I am not averse to those pianists who approach certain portions of
from the more delicate perspective). This weighty side of the work shows up particularly in “Byd?o,” where Gornostaeva’s oxen not only lumber along, but conjure up an image of a thundering herd.
Her contrast between the two sections of “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle” is as effectively contrasted as that of any pianist I’ve heard. When Schmuÿle’s section came, I saw in my mind’s eye the hapless man with his outstretched hand soliciting a morsel of bread from his wealthy counterpart, who was clearly not to be bothered. Contrasts are also pronounced in “Gnomus,” where in mm. 19 (on the repeat), 38, and 49, one hears stunning and unexpected
dynamics, not in the score, but so breathtaking in their effect that Mussorgsky could hardly have minded.
Gornostaeva’s freedom in rhythm throughout the work is always subject to the utmost musicality, and never seems contrived. Yes, she’s a bit too careful in “Limoges,” as are most pianists, but somehow in this performance it doesn’t bother me much, especially since she brings out the melody so beautifully in the section beginning at measure 17. Other than a few minor finger bobbles, this is a near flawlessly executed live performance of the Mussorgsky masterpiece.
Rachmaninoff’s preludes fare equally well. The middle section of his famous Prelude in C?-Minor, op. 3/2, is not a showy display, but a delving into the inner fabric of the piece. Gornostaeva exhibits beautiful singing lines in the F?-Minor, op. 23/1, a Richter-like virtuosity in the C Minor, op. 23/7, and a radiance in the G?-prelude, op. 23/10, that evoked for me a mental image of the sun breaking through the clouds on a bleak November day. The Prokofiev
Romeo and Juliet
selection was apparently an encore, and was most delicately rendered. The audience, mostly very quiet throughout the recital, thundered its approval at the conclusion, and I must agree with its assessment. The recorded monaural piano sound is not up to current standards of piano recording, but is eminently listenable. A few variances in sonics between one of the preludes and another was not unduly distracting—apparently, the engineer had to do a yeoman job in bringing the sonics up to an issuable level. This is a recital simply not to be missed by pianophiles and others who want a stunning example of the Russian school of piano playing during its golden era.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Works on This Recording
Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Vera Gornostaeva (Piano)
Written: 1874; Russia
Date of Recording: 04/26/1959
Length: 26 Minutes 47 Secs.
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