Svetlanov, The Pianist. The Early Years
By Nina Moznaïm Svetlanova
Evgeny Svetlanov studied at the Gnessin School in the studio of Maria Alexandrovna Gurvich who had been a student of Nikolai Medtner. From his early years, she fostered an interest and love for Medtner’s music in the young Svetlanov and he carried this special love throughout his life. Not only did he worship Medtner’s music, but also took it upon himself to bring it to the people. This was particularly difficult in Russia at that time.
As an émigré, Medtner, as well as other distinguished composers and writers who had left the country, was almost outlawed. His music was next to impossible to obtain.
Ms. Gurvich created what could be called a cult of Medtner. I do not know whether she was indeed an outstanding disciple, but she certainly carried that aura. Maria Gurvich used to put on regular concerts dedicated to Medtner’s music. Having set a passionate goal of performing Medtner’s complete works in a series of recitals, Svetlanov was the main figure at these concerts. He presented complete piano sonatas, all short piano works, and excerpts from Medtner’s three piano concertos and complete vocal works. The vocal pieces were both played and sung, wonderfully so, by Svetlanov. He had inherited a very beautiful voice from his parents, professional opera singers.
Later in life Svetlanov would record two violin sonatas, three piano sonatas, three nocturnes for violin and piano, piano quintet, numerous short works for solo piano. Svetlanov’s playing at the Medtner concerts was exceptional, carrying the stamp of his personality even at this early stage. Integrity of form, long phrases, distinctive sound and a unique manner of approaching and realizing the music’s dramatic climaxes characterized these performances.
The audience at these concerts consisted of the people who took a serious interest in music. I attended all of them as well. I distinctly remember seeing Vera Kruglikova, one of Svetlanov’s aunts.
Vera Petrovna Kruglikova, his mother’s sister, an exceptionally educated person who knew literature and poetry and spoke fluent French, was one of the regular listeners at the concerts. She loved Svetlanov very much, and was very supportive of her nephew’s musical development. Svetlanov deeply respected and loved Vera Petrovna, went to her for advice, and showed her his early compositions. He was very proud of the fact that she and his mother were the nieces of the well known Russian music critic and literary scholar Kruglikov, who played an important role in the cultural life of Russia at the end of 19th century. Kruglikov studied music theory with Rimsky-Korsakov and they kept a life-long friendship. Svetlanov had amazing hands, remarkably suited to piano playing. They were not particularly large, but rather solid, something like Emil Gilels’ hands. The main characteristics of his playing was expediency and rigorous economy of movement: each motion was conceived to serve a musical idea.