Pianist Maria Yudina was a unique figure of the Soviet era, a somewhat monastic figure (the reader learns from the booklet notes by her student Marina Drosdova that for many years Yudina owned only one dress) who fell afoul of the regime because of her strongly Christian orientation, but who exerted strong influence on her students. The release of various Yudina performances from the late '40s through the late '60s on Russia's Vista Vera label has offered musicianship that is never less than thought-provoking, covering music from Bach up through the Russian post-Romantics. Yudina was a thoroughgoing individualist in her playing, with a tendency at times not only to disregard but actually contradict composers' own dynamic markings. This Brahms disc, however, offers a more cooperative Yudina in a chamber-music setting, performing the Piano Quartet No. 2 with a trio of Russian string players. She is recognizably the same pianist heard in the Brahms piano works on the disc, and the music has the swirling intensity that was her trademark -- perhaps too much intensity for Brahms. But she does not dominate the sound. The slow movement in particular benefits from her passionate approach. The opening Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel in B flat major, Op. 24, exploit Yudina's talents to the fullest -- each little variation is a dramatically sculpted expressive whole. That performance is from 1948 (the others are later), and the sound, as with other discs in this series, is an impediment to enjoyment; here the problem is that the final notes of each variation are cut off so that the variations seem to flow into one another. The result is an odd little hiccup that's annoying and really inexplicable in a time when anyone can download software, for free in many cases, that would correct the difficulty.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Variations (25) and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, for piano, in B flat major, Op. 24|
|Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 26|