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Nikolai Saratovsky's Outstanding Success

Dennis Rose

The Mulled Wine Concert with Nikolai Saratovsky (piano) June 24, 2018

Nikolai Saratovsky’s Sunday concert (24 June) at the Memorial Hall in Paekakariki was an outstanding success.  Over the last couple of decades “Concerts by the Sea” and Mary Gow’s “Mulled Wine Concerts” have delivered many memorable occasions.  The Saratovsky concert was special.

Saratovsky, a 31 year old Russian from north of St Petersburg, plays from memory and his interpretations reflect deep understanding of the works.  His programme spanned the centuries, Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Lecuona y Casado.

Three works stand out in memory.  The Bach Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother was unusual in its programmatic nature with descriptive titles for each of the six movements.  The performance was straight forward and provided a reminder of just how well Bach’s keyboard music sounds on the modern grand.

The Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in A Major, Op. 87, was for me the highlight of the concert.  Shostakovich’s set of 24 Preludes and Fugues, composed at the beginning of the 1950s following a visit to Leipzig on the 200th centenary of Bach’s death, initially had a somewhat quiet reception both in the Soviet Union and in Western Europe.  They are formal works and on some performances one can almost hear the metronome ticking.  In contrast Saratovsky’s playing was a revelation in phrasing, with an easy and beautifully flowing prelude leading on to a confident working of the closing fugue.

Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise received an appropriately stirring performance with the achingly heroic main theme emerging repeatedly from the underlying lyricism of the piece.

There was much more to enjoy in the concert.  In the following days I had an opportunity to talk with Nikolai about his career to date and about the challenges of earning a living from the piano.  Never an easy task anywhere and certainly not so in contemporary Russia.  This man deserves support and we must hope that he can find opportunities through teaching and performance to continue developing and practising his very considerable talent.

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