The incomparable, soul-searching playing of the veteran Russian pianist Nelly Akopian-Tamarina is captured in a rare studio recording for PENTATONE with a luminous performance of Brahms’ towering Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 and the introspective Four Ballades, Op. 10.
In a distinguished tradition of playing stretching back to the great Russian school of Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Medtner through her teacher, the legendary Alexander Goldenweiser, Nelly Akopian-Tamarina is an exemplar of an exquisitely crafted and poetical style of playing which is subtle, probing, deeply lyrical and utterly spellbinding.
Winner of the 1963 Robert Schumann International Competition for Pianists and Singers and recipient of the coveted Robert Schumann Prize in 1974, her career was nevertheless blocked by official censorship in the Soviet Union during the 1970s such that she made her London debut only in 1983 with a programme of Schumann and Brahms. Her public appearances are all too infrequent but sought after and cherished by aficionados; for an all-Brahms recital in 2008 she was praised for her “luminous fortissimi. Chords ice-edged in silver. The finest pianissimi you're ever likely to hear on the concert stage. Singing lines, deliberated textures, broad-chested melodies ‘thrown’ across the auditorium, intricate pedalling. Unspoken stories. She takes listeners back to a distant, lost past." (International Piano)
For this new release, Akopian-Tamarina approaches the programme with her customary sensitivity and poetic insights to give performances of rare subtlety and perfection. “Classically framed romantic miniature fantasies, intricate, entwining studies in embroidery, decoration and voicing”, she writes of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, “the twenty-five variations navigate the theme to a coronation of fugal triumph, immeasurable and immortal”. Elsewhere she compares the Four Ballades to the passing of the seasons “The First, Winter … icy and unforgiving … The Second, Spring, is an awakening … the first buds blushing into life. The Third, Summer, as brief as youth … The Fourth, Autumn, is a symphonic poem, drawing to a close the dissonance of life’s pain, touching the untouchable.” This recording, her first for PENTATONE, was made in the warm acoustic of the Snape Maltings in England.
“The piano sound made by the Moscow-born Nelly Akopian-Tamarina was not only distinctive, but almost tangible … a playing tradition going back to the giants of the past, to Rachmaninov, Moiseiwitsch, Scriabin and what we imagine of Liszt … a fragile, poetic creation in every fold of her dress and with each flick of the wrist.” (The Sunday Times)