Nelly Akopian-Tamarina

Intermezzos, Op.117
Balladen, Op.10
Klavierstücke, Op.76

Nelly Akopian-Tamarina (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 January, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A public appearance by Nelly Akopian-Tamarina is rare. Before this Wigmore Hall recital she had not played in London for 20 years. Previously she had been banned in the Soviet Union from giving concerts – ‘by association’: her sister had married a Jew.

Her performances of Brahms’s music are very personal – deeply felt, expansive and searching. This was a recital that, on paper, seemed short, but took about an hour longer than might have been supposed – partly through starting late and the interval running to 30 minutes, but, most significantly, because Akopian-Tamarina stretched the music: quite often way beyond itself. For anyone concerned with timings, these 15 pieces by Brahms here took around 90 minutes to perform.

It wasn’t so much that Akopian-Tamarina played slowly – that’s too basic a description and, anyway, ‘real time’ and ‘musical time’ are not one and the same – or that she indulged the music – self-aggrandisement doesn’t enter the equation. Rather she probed at every expressive possibility. It could be that she loves the music too much and finds too much personal significance in it. A musical exploration is one thing, a personal testimony another. There were many examples here of Brahms’s music being overburdened. Some pieces seemed interminable, the music a cipher for the pianist to say something so deep – to her – that are impossible in words. One must respect the pianist’s subjective response, but wonder about Brahms himself in all this.

In terms of her actual playing, Akopian-Tamarina (the last pupil of Alexander Goldenweiser) conjured a consistently beautiful sound, many colours and dynamic contrasts, and was technically well-equipped to clarify the thicket of notes. However, alongside her distended approach to the music, there was a sameness of approach – both in tonal palette and executive decision – that palled and robbed the composer of the different stages of his creativity. And by extending the music’s coverage, it seemed to be more a mix of Chopin and Schumann. Maybe, on this occasion, a spiritual dimension was more important than a textural one – but too often what she did was unconvincing in purely musical terms. On those few occasions when tempo and attack were more akin to the ‘norm’ (allowing that that is a bogus criterion in music), then the true spirit of the music surfaced and was recognisably far more individual.

With the clock fast approaching 10 o’clock (the recital having been scheduled to begin at 7.30), I made a retreat from the ovation. It was more than enough. Akopian-Tamarina played at least one encore, which I heard with increasing distance; it sounded like Rachmaninov, but was no doubt by Brahms. The recital was recorded – for public dissemination? It would be interesting to hear it again away. The ‘Programme Concept’ itself is copyrighted to Akopian-Tamarina. What does this mean to another pianist hitting on this particular Brahms combination? Now, that is personal!

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