Maria Yudina plays Beethoven Diabelli Variations Op. 120 (1/5)

An exerpt from the article, "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" by Peter Gutmann, published on Maria Yudina - I want to conclude on a huge upbeat. Until very recently, Maria Yudina (1899 - 1970), while a legend in Russia, was virually unknown in the West, and with good reason. She apparently was a dissident, both politically (she was one of the very few who apparently told off Stalin and survived) and artistically (she was a modernist in an artistically reactionary cold-war Russia). Not surprisingly, while others were allowed to concertize, travel and teach as a reward for their loyalty, her career sputtered through constant dismissals, bans and repression. Her only other CD, part of the ten-volume Melodiya Russian Piano School set, is of modern stuff, dutifully played but without fireworks. The prospect of her "Great Pianists" set featuring Bach's Goldberg Variations and Beethoven's Diabelli and Eroica Variations seemed pretty deadly. Here, I have to admit to an embarrassing personal prejudice - although these works are generally considered the apogee of the variation format (in which a simple melody passes through all sorts of permutations for an hour or so), they barely keep me awake. (Perhaps that's fitting, since legend has it that the Bach was commissioned by its patron to cure his insomnia.) Until I heard Yudina, that is. Wow! As Jimmy Durante (to whom she came to bear more than a passing resemblance) might have said: "Can that lady play the pianner!" Her playing is so devoid of frills or personal interpretive baggage, yet so full of conviction, so vivid, so utterly honest. I can't even imagine nodding off to such astoundingly verile work. More than anything else, the Yudina set encouraged me to get many other volumes of the "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" edition in which at first I was only marginally interested. True, a few turned out to be duds, but more often than not there were delightful surprises. It's a tribute to the richness of music that no two listeners will ever agree as to a single list of the absolute "best" performances, and perhaps that's the ultimate significance of this Edition. No one will fully endorse the producer's selections, but there's some fabulous stuff from unexpected places that will deepen and enrich anyone's understanding and enjoyment of the huge body of piano recordings of the twentieth century.


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