PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No 4 RAVEL Le tombeau de Couperin (Milstein)
Reviewing debut discs can be hazardous in the light of later developments. The first Gramophone review of Argerich, for instance, now appears comically high-handed: ‘When she realises that there’s more to a presto than mere speed, more to double octaves than mere thunder, and more to music than keyboard effectiveness, I’m sure she will be quite a pianist.’ Fortunately in the case of Nathalia Milstein, winner of the 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition, the path is partially cleared, thanks to glowing reviews of the violin-and-piano disc she released last year with her sister Maria (2/18).
As with that disc, her solo debut has a carefully planned programme, this time juxtaposing Ravel and Prokofiev and thereby bringing together her own French and Russian identities. Having often been associated with the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein, Nathalia had to set the record right by posting that ‘I am not that Milstein’. At the same time, she revealed her no less distinguished lineage back to her grandfather, Yakov, whose book on Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier I myself read as a textbook for students at the Kiev Conservatory.
Taking us from Prokofiev’s brooding Fourth Sonata (dedicated to his good friend Maximilian Schmidthof, who took his own life) to his Toccata, through the youthful Op 12 Ten Pieces and Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, the emphasis in Milstein’s programme is on memory and connection with the past, as well as a journey from darkness and loss towards celebration of the life-force. Having won the Dublin competition with Prokofiev’s Second Concerto – reportedly another memorial to Schmidthof – her choice of the Fourth Sonata makes a lot of sense. But while her impulsiveness, emotional outbursts and spontaneity are particularly suited to the playful Ten Pieces, it cannot be said that she conveys the sonata’s full depth and subtlety, at least not with the sureness of a Richter. Her rendition of Ravel is flexible and individual, in ways that may surprise some listeners, but it is charming and convincing in its own terms, as is her account of the Toccata, which showcases her agility while remaining musically poised throughout.