THE PASSING OF A LEGEND
NATHAN PERELMAN (1906-2002)
Nathan Perelman is little known in the West, though at the St Petersburg
Conservatory his presence has been felt for decades. A pianist of great
sophistication, Nathan Perelman was one of the great masters of the art.
His recordings are few and very rare.
Born in 1906 in the Ukraine, Nathan Perelman studied with Leonid Nikolayev
at the St Petersburg Conservatory whose other students included Vladimir
Sofronitzki, Maria Yudina and Dmitri Shostakovitch. For a time Perelman
had also studied with Heinrich Neuhaus in Kiev.
After joining the faculty in St Petersburg, Professor Perelman performed
regularly, even at one time having a television program devoted to music.
He recorded a few items for live broadcast in the 1930s, released an album
of miniatures, some Schubert sonatas and dances and recorded the posthumous
Bb Sonata in the 1970s. A profoundly dedicated teacher, Nathan Perelman
guided many students into the depths of art, while not concerning himself,
or his students, with the professional world. He counted among his friends
all of the elite of musical Russia, including Gilels and Rostropovich.
Nathan Perelman's playing was always precise, with attention to every
note. When asked why he did not play Schumann's Prophet Bird evenly
he replied that he had not heard birds sing strictly in time, nor repeat
themselves exactly. The freedom of performance was of the greatest importance
to Nathan Perelman and one of the reasons he avoided the recoding studio.
He was afraid to freeze time. But those recordings which do exist must be
transferred to CD. The Schubert B Flat Sonata is one of the greatest ever
captured on disc.
However, he was willing to write about his art and produced one of the
finest books on the spirit of the piano. It is not a pedagogical treatise,
it is the reflections of an artist upon art in aphorisms of penetrating
insight, ready wit, and profound wisdom. Ronald Stevenson has highest praise
for it. This book deserves the attention of all sincere artists and students
of the piano. (Autumn Leaves by Nathan Perelman. Translated by Henry Orlov
Edited by Joanne Hoover with postscript by Leonid Gakkel Washington DC :
H A Frager & Co, 1994, ISBN 0-929647-06-8, 64pp. Sadly, it seems this
edition is out of print and copies are almost impossible to obtain. A new
edition is sorely required.)
Several selections from Nathan Perelman's Autumn Leaves:
- A melodic line performed without intervallic tension is like lifeless
to which someone forgot to attach high-voltage wires. (page 19)
- How beautiful is playing thickly infused with bass! (page 46)
- An accent is akin to a poison: the right dose helps, an excessive
kills. (page 48)
- Absolute uniformity of tempo is a sad destiny of the street-organ
- To play nobly while being an ignoble person is impossible, for art
behaviour. (page 23)
With his passing the world has lost an incomparable artist. One of his
students, the pianist Vladislav Kovalsky, who currently lives and teaches
near New York responded thus to the news :
'The great era of free artistry, thinking, teaching and unconditional
love and devotion to the beloved art of music and piano playing came to
Copyright © 20 February 2002
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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