P0869. VLADIMIR NIELSEN: The Piano Art of Vladimir Nielsen, incl. Schumann, Mendelssohn, Medtner & Ravel (the latter’s Gaspard de la Nuit). (Russia) Northern Flowers 9982, recorded 1955-60. - 4607053328837
“Russian pianist Vladimir Nielsen (1910-1998) seems to be one of those colossal best-kept secret legends of the keyboard, and these transfers of recordings made by Kiev and Leningrad Radio, 1955-1960, do him only partial justice. The sound quality of these recordings remains consistently tinny and boxy, the piano either under water or in a telephone booth. Still, the poetry that Nielsen possesses, especially in Schumann, perseveres. A friend and colleague of N.I. Golubovskaya at the Leningrad Conservatory, Nielsen admitted that it was she who ‘discovered the laws of musical speech to me, a spontaneous performer’s intuition’.
The Schumann ‘Forest Scenes’ offer a series of eight landscape character-pieces, of which the ‘Herberge’, ‘Vogel als Prophet’, and ‘Jagdlied’ make the most immediate impression. The two end-pieces, ‘Entritt’ and ‘Abschied’, combine hortatory and meditative impulses in that delicately poetic balance that raises the notes to another sphere. While I remain partial to my Robert Casadesus rendition of the WALDSZENEN, I must confess that Nielsen’s lofty thought and intricate contrapunctus invokes many wistful thoughts.
Medtner’s ‘Fairy Tale’ in e, Op. 34, No. 2 follows, a piece that subsumes Brahms and Rachmaninov at once. The modal runs take on their own hypnosis, their filigree even hinting at the sensuality in Chopin and Scriabin. The ‘Fairy Tale’ in b-flat, Op. 20, No. 1 clearly derives its impulse from Chopin’s Op. 9, No. 1 Nocturne. Then Medtner goes his own way in thirds and counterpoint, the bass rising with grumbling passions. The block chords seem to condense Rachmaninov and Liszt into as tight ball, a heated, perfumed reverie from one of Dorian Gray’s soirées.
Ravel’s 1908 suite after poems of Bertrand, GASPARD DE LA NUIT, appears to have been a life-long specialty of Nielsen’s. Certainly, Nielsen’s ‘Ondine’ splashes and undulates through a wiry gauze of Ravel harmony, the repeated notes redolent with Liszt’s Geneva bells. Liquid runs and a polished bass line contribute to the lulling affect of the sensuous score, a plaint for a degree of pity for a feral seductive creature whose underlying malignancy makes her ‘La belle dame sans merci’. A merciless sun casts its unearthly glow on a dangling carcass in ‘Le Gibet’, the gloomy repeated bass tones almost a sequence from the Latin Mass. Nielsen’s spectral performance invokes a series of lurid nightmarish images, the affect cold and unnaturally static. Each shadow and depression in the corpse seems to relate some ghastly narrative. The tolling bells leave off, and another nightmare intrudes upon us in ‘Scarbo’, the dwarf, something like Poe’s ‘Hop-Frog’. Some pre-echo invades the sound space, so we have unintended polyphony beyond the often Iberian modalities that pervade this fierce toccata. The recording venue adds a haunted reverberation all its own to complement the wild leaps in the melodic line. Paroxysms and paranoia frolic with one another in thunderous panoply; and we could only wish Nielsen had better recording conditions to savor the color details of this revealed master.”
—Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE EDITION, 4 Feb., 2012