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Maria Yudina

Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (September 10, 1899, Nevel; November 19, 1970, Moscow)

There currently exist several interesting pages on the internet about this important pianist:

    New Recording
    Announcement of a recording produced in 1999, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, featuring her concert in Kiev on April 4, 1954. This page includes two pictures of her.
The only recording of hers still being produced, that I could find (or maybe the only one available in the U.S.), is the 1999 album in the set of "Great Pianists of the 20th Century". Two reviews are included below.

    Maria Yudina from "Great Pianists of the 20th Century"
    Label: Polygram Records - #456994 (Phillips Classics); February 9, 1999; 2 discs
    1. Goldberg Variations for keyboard, BWV 988, by Johann Sebastian Bach (recorded in 1968)
    2. Variations for piano in C major on a waltz by Diabelli ("Diabelli Variations"), Op. 120, by Ludwig van Beethoven
    3. Variations (15) and fugue on a theme from "Prometheus" for piano in E flat major ("Eroica Variations"), Op. 35, by Ludwig van Beethoven
Review from Amazon.com customer, Richard Townsend:
Maria Yudina (1899-1970), one of the greatest pianists of her generation, dared to become a "legend in her own lifetime". She was born in Nevel, Russia and died in Moscow. She began her formal studies at age 7 and went on to become a star pupil at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (studying with the great Anna Essipova). Possessing "fingers of steel", a poetic temperament, and a masculine creative intellect, Yudina made music like no other of her generation. She was truly a profound humanist: an interpreter of genius. She dared to be true to her own beliefs at a time of repressing conformity. She was labeled as Stalin's favorite pianist, and because of this fact, she got away with sending him nasty notes about his policies without being sent to the Gulag like so many great intellectuals. An interesting story has it that she once played a Mozart concerto for Soviet radio and on hearing this, Stalin ordered a copy of the performance to be sent to him immediately. Since no one dared to tell Stalin that it was a live broadcast, the pianist and the entire orchestra found themselves brought back to the recording studio at four in the morning. She was a great eccentric as well, often reading banned literature at her concerts. Her repetoire was staggering, including everything from Rameau to Boulez and Stockhausen. However, on this cd is in my opinion, one of hers and history's greatest recordings: that of Bach's Goldberg Variations. It's without doubt the most fascinating and colorful Goldberg I've ever heard, and it was recorded just two years before her death at age 71. She did not get round to playing the Goldberg in public until such a late age because of the maturity and intellectual strength needed to really "interpret" such a monument of music.Her embellishments are torrential. The sound is like a full orchestra. But as the booklet says, this is a Bach very much in keeping with our time, showing that humanism and the creative ethic can still shine in the modern mess of the Twentieth Century. The way in which she brings out the subtleties of the piece is in fact quite amazing. She accentuates the polyphonic richness of the work with a majesty I've rarely heard. Full of fantasy and an amazing drive (even surpassing Gould, Jambor, and other great Bach keyboard artists). Intense, intellectual, and most of all spiritual playing. One of the great talents of the past century. I recommend this recently released recording for any music connoisseur.
An exerpt from the article, "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" by Peter Gutmann, published on www.classicalnotes.net:
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.

You may also be interested in reading the informative article Peter Gutmann writes about Bach's Goldberg Variations, found at http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics/goldberg.html.

this page published September 17, 2002

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