Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Name Among the Great Pianists To Be Remembered...

Since the latter part of the Romantic period the world has been the witness to the veritably endless parade of  great  Russian pianists. From the time of Anton Rubinstein to the legendary career of Vladimir Horowitz, who passed away less than thirty years ago, the  history of the keyboard giants  from Mother Russia is like no other,  from the time it all began  with the early Romanticism of Beethoven's  journey.
Many of us still hold in vivid recall the shouting and stamping after a Horowitz afternoon recital; an experience  of a unique form of 'feeling completed'  after hearing Ashkenazy; an overriding sense of "did what I just heard really happen?" upon leaving a Gilels recital, such as I once did at Symphony Hall in Boston;  or a Richter; -   and on and on it goes after listening to a Kissin, or a  Pletnev etc., etc.
The parade of these immortals is even longer than generally thought about. There is a sizeable number of marvelous pianists from Russia that we so seldom hear about, as many of them remained in the country of their birth primarily as teachers. The names, for instance, of Udina and Feinberg represent not only  pedagogy of the highest level but also performers of world-class attainment.  Listen to the recordings that were made in Russia during the earlier portion of the preceding century, and you will be aware that you are listening to performance at its highest level.
After all this, I must bring to you the name Vladimir Sofronitsky.
He never played in the West. He never played in America. Or England. The few recordings emanate from  Mother Russia, for the most part.
I, for many years, had considered the playing of Scriabin's piano music by Vladimir Horowitz to be the most certifiably connected to this Russian Mystic; after all, that singular, neurotic  Horowitzian 'edge' really best typifies the mystery of the unique tapestry  woven by the composer that is Scriabin's  legacy.
But, then; there is Sofronitsky in his playing of Scriabin - did his marriage to one of Scriabin's daughters have something to do with the magical powers he evokes from the music?
But do go on with other recordings.
The Mazurkas of Chopin; the playing of Schumann; his reading of the Mendelssohn "Variations Serieuses" is beyond description, in my view. His 'touch'-pedaling in Mendelssohn, as opposed to the more connective pedal he utilizes in his Chopin is a brilliant example of differentiation between one Romantic's language and another.
And the other recordings he left us - well;  Gilels himself stated, upon the death of Vladimir Sofronitsky, that "the greatest pianist in the world has just died."
It seems that a heart condition, cancer,  let alone drugs and alcohol,  had taken him from us.
At the Potsdam Conference, Stalin ordered that Sofronitsky play for Truman and Churchill, which he did. Of all the pianists available in Mother Russia at that time, the Russian leader chose Sofronitsky.
A legend not generally known to us, sadly...
If you are not familiar with this rather secretive, Hollywood-handsome,  hero of Gilels and Richter -
then why not  give him a try?...

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