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Vladislav Kovalsky

Master musician and representative of the St Petersburg tradition, by GORDON RUMSON


In this era of the global village it's hard to realize that in the past, culture was local and localized. Certain places, at certain times and because of very specific conditions, allowed for the growth of unique and characteristic cultural developments. It might be a very trivial reason (could Gothic Cathedrals have been built where there was no easily obtained stone?) or the reasons might be complex (say, drama in Elizabethan England). Sometimes seclusion is required for creativity.

Although today the pianistic world is cosmopolitan, in the past very distinct regional differences in music making were plainly evident. In the early 1800s, for example, in part because of the quite different nature of the pianos being built, there were two distinct 'schools' in Vienna and London. Other schools developed (French, German, American), each with some underlying principles that deliver a characteristic tendency to the performance. One of the later schools was the Russian.

Although it may seem that way to outsiders, the 'Russian School of Piano Playing' is not a monolithic unity. Though many artists have been taught its principles and many musicians can trace their roots back to the representatives of this tradition, there are many aspects to it.

Most important for the history of Russian pianism are the two locations in Moscow and Leningrad, now again St Petersburg. (This is not to reduce the significance of other schools or areas, such as Kiev.) But there are differences of style and manner between Moscow and St Petersburg and it should be remembered that many of the pianists and competition participants that represented Russia during the Soviet era were from Moscow, partly because of proximity to the corridors of power. Moscow pianists tended towards a muscular clarity and strong willed emphasis on power and projection. Even now, when one thinks of the Russian School this kind of pianism comes to mind.

The St Petersburg school tended towards a different ideal, one more philosophic and reflective. Sound, not mere projection, was the ideal. The very expressivity of the piano sound itself was the goal. The pianist and longtime faculty member at the St Petersburg Conservatory, Nathan Perelman wrote:

"The piano sound has amazing potentials. One can ignite and extinguish it. It blazes and it smolders. It soars like a rocket leaving behind but a pedal trace. It flows and boils. Yet with all these it is not water or fire, but sound."

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Copyright © 25 March 2004 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


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