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Leslie Gerber
Leslie Gerber, September 2009

Nikolayeva was intimately connected with the creation of this music. Shostakovich was a member of the jury which awarded Nikolayeva first prize at the 1950 Leipzig Bach Festival competition, and they played together in a performance of the Concerto for Three Pianos (with Pavel Serebriakov). Later, as Shostakovich wrote the music over a period of four months, he played the pieces for Nikolayeva. She gave the world premiere performance of the complete series in 1952 and continued to play them for the remaining four decades of her life…These video performances were recorded in a studio (BBC Scotland if I caught a hint correctly) without an audience. The camera work, sound quality, and picture quality are all first rate. While some of Nikolayeva’s late CDs were disappointing, she is in wonderful form here, playing with all the color, power, and subtlety which characterize her best work. Other pianists may have provoked more drama in this music, but Nikolayeva’s musical directness combined with her very wide range of resources make this disc a mesmerizing experience, one to which I am sure I will return often.

The brief bonus documentary, using the same performances, shows some tantalizing glimpses of Shostakovich himself at the piano. If the clip of the Piano Quintet comes from a film of the complete performance, that urgently needs to be published. Medici Arts’ video and audio processing are admirable, but the formatting makes it impossible to play more than one chapter at a time unless one starts from the beginning with “Play All.”

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.

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5:46:51 PM, 28 August 2015
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