American Record Guide
, December 2008
Broadcast by the BBC in December 1992, this is a studio production with a 68-year-old master pianist performing the huge set of Preludes and Fugues that Shostakovich wrote for her in 1951. The 24 Preludes and Fugues take 150 minutes, and then we get a 14-minute interview with Nikolayeva discussing the works and her relationship with Shostakovich.
The set for these films is rather odd, but not intrusive. A large hanging lamp, adorned by a tasseled shade illuminates the big Steinway, which sits on an old wooden platform. The lamp goes away about half way through the set, and we get a black-and-white monitor in the background with an overhead shot of her hands. The set has other antiques, banners in Russian, many wooden masts, and a lot of rope and/or wires tying things together. Lighting is soft and changes from piece to piece. Eventually, by the end, most of the rope has been replaced by chain.
Most of the time we see well-chosen camera shots of Nikolayeva’s hands and face. Only when the cameras occasionally pan out do you get a chance to see the whole set. Always, the old woman’s gnarled, but expressive fingers are very clear.
I am reminded of Wanda Landowska’s famous line about her interpretations of JS Bach, which could be appropriately modified here: you can play Shostakovich your way and Nikolayeva will play him his way. She had over 40 years of intimate knowledge of these works, right from their inception, so anyone with an interest in this music must have this…The sound is excellent, and I like to watch and listen (even if I have my score in hand) rather than just listen.
Less than a year after these were broadcast, on November 13, 1993, Nikolayeva suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while performing these works in San Francisco. She was unable to complete the concert and died nine days later.