A child prodigy, Viktoria Postnikova was born into a family of musicians. At the age of six she entered the Moscow Central Music School where she studied piano with E.B. Musaelian and made her public debut the following year playing a Mozart piano concerto. Postnikova continued her studies at the Moscow Conservatory with Yakov Flier. After winning a prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition, Postnikova won joint second prize with Semyon Kruchin at the Leeds International Piano Competition the following year: first place was taken by Rafael Orozco. A certain controversy surrounded this placing and Hans Keller, who thought Postnikova should have won first place, wrote ‘With intensely restrained intensity, with breathtaking poise between extremes of contrasting emotion, with an originality of insight that made every phrase…sound brand new—in short, with continuous inspiration and mastery, this twenty-two-year-old girl gave performance after performance which showed where music came from: that it was an urgent communication inexpressible by any other means. Miss Postnikova is a supreme artist who composes while she plays.’ Postnikova was then offered two appearances at the Proms in 1967. At the first she played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11 and at the second, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23. Her solo London debut was given in May 1968 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a programme of Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. One critic summed up Postnikova’s gifts when he wrote, ‘She seems born to play the piano. As an artist, too, she has that gift of instantaneously perceiving the musical truth and of presenting it with perfect sense of proportion.’ She was only twenty-four at the time. Two years later, at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, she won joint third prize with Arthur Moreira-Lima in the year when the joint first prize went to John Lill and Vladimir Krainev.
Postnikova has performed throughout Europe and Japan, toured Australia and the Far East with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and South America with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. She has played with many of the great orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland, Philadelphia and most of the London orchestras. She has worked with many conductors including Kirill Kondrashin, Adrian Boult, Colin Davis and predominantly with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky whom she married in 1969. Postnikova also plays chamber music with her violinist son Sacha Rozhdestvensky, and in Russia and France played Brahms’s complete violin sonatas, and sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bartók with Yehudi Menuhin.
Her repertoire is based on large Romantic works by composers such as Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. She also plays Bach, Scarlatti and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Liszt, Chopin and Schumann; and music by Busoni, Ives, Britten and Shostakovich. Her style is typically Russian: a fiery temperament allied to a comprehensive technique.
Postnikova has made numerous recordings and one of the first, made for Melodya in the early 1970s, contains a blistering account of Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op. 16 as well as études by Debussy, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov. Most notable amongst her recordings on compact disc are the complete piano concertos of Prokofiev, recorded during the 1980s with her husband as conductor; Postnikova plays the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 16 in a very lyrical manner and the orchestra mirrors her style. Of the three piano concertos by Tchaikovsky recorded for Decca in 1982 Postnikova gives a completely musically coherent reading of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23. Everything she does seems to be done for a reason, and no passage is played just for effect. Her recording of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major Op. 44 is just as fine and uses the complete version of the second movement. In 1989 Postnikova’s Radio France recording of the mammoth Piano Concerto Op. 39 by Busoni was issued by Erato and was coupled with the same composer’s Fantasia contrappuntistica. Also for Erato, Postnikova recorded the complete solo piano works of Tchaikovsky on seven discs and works by Janáček. The sound in the Tchaikovsky set is variable, but at its best is extremely good in The Months Op. 37a, where Postnikova’s subtle rubato, warm tone and characterisation of each piece makes it one of her best discs.
There is also a fine disc of piano works by Mussorgsky recorded for Melodya in 1982 which includes Pictures at an Exhibition and nine of his solo piano works which are rarely heard. For Chandos Postnikova has accompanied violinist Lydia Mordkovich in sonatas by Busoni and Richard Strauss, and with her son Sacha she has recorded violin sonatas by Haydn, Richard Strauss and Alfred Schnittke who dedicated his Concerto Grosso No. 6 to her and of which she has made an excellent recording, also for Chandos. She has also recorded the Concerto for Piano and Strings and the Concerto for Piano Four Hands by Schnittke, the latter with the composer’s wife Irina as partner. Less successful is the recording of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto Op. 20, although Postnikova gives an excellent account of the same composer’s Prometheus Op. 60.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist