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What could've been...
on 14 August 2011
Unfortunately there's no widely available recording of the Preludes and Fugues with Nikolayeva at the height of her powers (there's a notoriously hard to find recording from the 60s in really poor sound, but that's another story...), so we have to make do with this 1990 cycle and the Regis one from 1987. They're pretty similar, apart from the acoustics - quite murky here, very dry on Regis. Neither is ideal, and nor is Nikolayeva's playing: her technique is past its best, and that shows in some of the faster numbers. This set is even sloppier than the 1987 one, which is why I'd recommend that one over this. Other pieces are so slow they almost grind to a halt. Yet there's no denying the authority of her playing and the cumulative impact of the cycle.
In an ideal world, there would be a complete recording by Sviatoslav Richter, or a Nikolayeva from the 60s and 70s in good sound. As it is, the most consistently satisfying recordings are by Konstantin Scherbakov on Naxos and Ashkenazy.