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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 posts
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 one
(page 48)
Absolute uniformity of tempo is a sad destiny of the street-organ (page 26)
To play nobly while being an ignoble person is impossible, for art is
(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 the end.'

Nathan Perelman


Copyright © 20 February 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada




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