Nine years ago, I visited the conservatoire in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and listened to some young pianists. Writing about my visit, I predicted that one player in particular would have a big future: 19-year-old Marina Nadiradze, a self-possessed beauty who could hardly speak a word of English, delivered Scarlatti and Chopin with luminous brilliance.
Two years ago, out of the blue, a home-produced CD arrived in the post: Nadiradze again, now a much-garlanded competition-winner, and giving a performance of those same composers with the expressive control one associates with Mitsuko Uchida. Tomorrow she will make her debut at the Wigmore Hall, adding brightly coloured Albéniz and thunderous Prokofiev to her original repertoire. This should be a significant event.
Her excellence derives from the fact that she came up through the Soviet system, though she gets angry when people describe her as a Russian pianist, as they often do. "There's a lot of pianistic talent in Georgia, thanks to the superb teachers we have," she points out. One of hers was taught by Heinrich Neuhaus, among the greatest exponents of Chopin and Debussy of the early 20th century. Nadiradze's other big influence was the British teacher Philip Jenkins, who had been taught by Dame Myra Hess, and whom Nadiradze married: she has, thus, absorbed the best of two different pianistic worlds.
How does she differentiate them? "Myra Hess's students embodied simplicity, sensitivity to the composer's intentions - purity." And the Russian school? "Poetry. They had soul. Quite different from the virtuosity which is fashionable now. They were real artists, even when they didn't have amazing technique."
That king of wrong notes Alfred Cortot is one of Nadiradze's heroes, as is the visionary Clara Haskil. "I put old records on, not new ones," she says. "Virtuosity is important, but on its own it doesn't amount to much. No, I won't name names."
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