Nicholas Walker

Reviews

"This playing is vital and alive" Fanfare

"This Russian-trained British pianist arrests the attention immediately with the opening of the virtuosic The Spinner and his reading of all the works is sympathetic, lyrically cool, yet with the flair of a full-scale virtuoso and a sparkling intelligence." BBC Music Magazine

"Reared at the RAM and the Moscow Conservatory, he is a prodigy, of awesome technical fluency backed by exceptional artistry.... To the intellectual rigour of the brilliant young Boulez... he bought clarity, eloquence and illumination. The same general qualities informed his marvellous account of the Hammerklavier sustaining its impetus and interest throughout the endless span of its slow movement, and then attacking its fugal finale with irresistible energy and acumen. Balakirev's Islamey sounded as it must a spectacular "war horse". For all that Mr Walker is a gentle virtuoso never flailing the keyboard, his pedalling throughout immaculate, showing this remarkable pianist's flair for the lyrical and late romantic." Evening Standard

"Few pianists would be so intrepid or so rash, as to begin a recital with Boulez's uncompromising First Sonata and follow it with one of Beethoven's most abstruse: the "Hammerklavier". But Nicholas Walker did so in a masterly recital at St. John's Smith Square... Such contrasts of tone colour, coupled with an absolutely secure technique, put Walker's "Hammerklavier" in a class of its own. His superb control enabled one to respond to the poetry without the barrier often presented by the notes themselves - or rather, by their mechanical reproduction. An exhilarating account of Balakirev's oriental fantasy Islamey - requiring subtlety of nuance, as well as sovereign technique - was a fitting conclusion." The Times

"Only a few piano virtuosi, such as the late John Ogdon, have tended to give recitals of the kind Nicholas Walker undertook at St John's Smith Square: a fascinating mix of works that required the ultimate in stamina and technical prowess, along with lesser known romantic and modern repertoire...Juxtaposing Boulez's Sonata No.1 with Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata proved illuminating, since Walker brought to both a ruthless momentum and relish for extreme dynamic contrasts that suited the music admirably." The Guardian

"Walker proved to be the nearest thing to a natural Balakirev performer I have heard in a long while." Financial Times

"...he returned to the platform…for the Schubert [Wanderer Fantasie], of which he proceeded to give a performance of the greatest artistry and refinement: this was a magnificent interpretation of consistent excellence and understanding, the pianist at one with this imperishable masterpiece. …comprehensively stunning accounts…of the pieces by Liszt, playing of the very highest quality – technically, this pianist knows no peers, and his unfailing musicality was displayed with breathtaking effect: nor is this a euphemism for superficiality – far from it, for one’s overriding impression was the profound understanding Walker brought to these fearsomely difficult pieces and the almost effortless manner by which he transformed technical demands into purely musical Romantic expressionism, such as one hears so very rarely among pianists today." The Classical Source

"The Sonata in B flat minor (1905) of Mili Balakirev, with its fabulous finale… requires extraordinary endurance. Nicholas Walker serves it up with brio without any voltage drop, and the climax really smells of sulphur." Diapason

"It [the Balakirev Sonata (1905)] is a masterly performance… Walker finds inner voices and emphasizes some different aspects of the harmony and form, making for a new and well thought out interpretation. He has the full technical capability to handle all of the demands of this score, which also bodes well for future volumes in the series. In a few aspects, he is more faithful to the score than anyone else..." American Record Guide

"The fireworks that Nicholas Walker sets off here are fun and provide the perfect introduction to the popular power of the "neo-Russian school"". Spiegel Online

"Nicholas Walker interprets these works brilliantly. From a purely "digital" point of view nothing escapes him, and he circumvents demanding obstacles with total credit. The expressive is handled equally well in solemn and gentle Andante movements, as in the furious and sweeping Allegros, and, as can be seen in the Mazurkas, without ever losing detail and musicality." Ritmo

"All the playing is exemplary and Nicholas Walker…has added another powerful voice to the demands for a reappraisal of this neglected composer." MusicWeb International

"From the outset he seems intent on flexing his own muscles as a pianist, with music of considerable difficulty and complexity. It would be too simplistic to describe them as Russian versions of the famous B flat minor sonata of Liszt, but it will place it in perspective for those who have yet to hear the work. On this disc they are played by one of Balakirev’s foremost champions, the British pianist, Nicholas Walker. He does not hide the technical hurdles the composer presents, but his performances are impressive and hugely enjoyable. I look forward to future releases, and most strongly commend this to you." David Denton’s Review Corner

"What matters is that all three, especially as grouped together in this way, provide you with some of the most wonderful, cosmically romantic piano music you can hear anywhere, and of course it's all very Russian. Nicholas Walker gives us rousingly moving performances that bear up under close listening yet give you a widely brushed, dramatic largeness and a hushed suspended feeling alternatingly in the grand tradition." Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

"...his musical penetration and insight, from the opening pages of the Haydn…made it clear that he is a very distinguished pianist, with a fine imagination and technique to match, but it was in Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ that the fullest range of Walker’s artistry became apparent. His penetration and insight into this work were wholly exceptional: the shading of dynamics, voicing, range of tone-colour, structural command, emotional breadth and phrasing – all were of the highest level, brought together by an interpretative musical mind of rare insight. This was, without question, a great performance." The Classical Source

"I have no doubt that Walker’s series will [be regarded] as the reference set for Balakirev..." American Record Guide

"Throughout these are such pleasing scores, while such works as the fourth waltz, Valse de Concert, should be an absolute gift to today’s young pianists as the most exciting finale to a recital imaginable. The Nocturnes are mostly in a more restrained mood, and the gently lilting Chant du Pecheur is particularly beautiful. Ending in the whirlwind and exhilarating seventh Waltz, the British pianist, Nicholas Walker, one of Balakirev’s foremost champions, is in every way superb, and I most strongly commend the disc to you." David Denton’s Review Corner

"Walker's credentials as a Balakirev interpreter are immediately assured in La Fileuse, a sparkling curtain-raiser, and in an authoritative account of the B flat minor Scherzo. Particularly impressive, however, are the more introspective pieces...where Walker's sensitivity and subtly varied tonal palette are enchanting." Gramophone

"Here we can enjoy a wide range of captivating music, played with insight and invigorating fervour by one of Britain's undisputed best young pianists." Classic CD

"Nicholas Walker's thrilling, seat-of-the-pants account (of the Lyapunov Sonata live at the Husum Festival) is a tour de force." International Record Review

"Well-known and not well-known Balakirev
Do we know our musical classics? In the Small Hall of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory a large number of music lovers received a negative reply to this question.

In a concert, which had been organized by the doctor of artistic research and professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory Tatiana Zaitseva, works by the leader of the "Mighty Handful" were heard which had been performed extremely rarely, and some not at all before. In a short (which does her credit), but substantial and pithy, opening speech Tatiana Zaitseva summarized the importance of Mily Alekseyevich Balakirev as a composer, "who defined the epoch".

Certainly there is no-one like Balakirev, neither in Russian music nor in the entire world of music, who could have created the greatest compositional school in the world, the members of which - Modest Mussorgsky, Aleksander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Aleksander Glazunov, Anatoly Liadov, Sergei Lyapunov and others - could so influence the development not only of Russian, but also other national schools of composition. And this genius, as emerged in Tatiana Zaitseva's opening address, was moulded almost in childhood. At the age of 16 he had written the "Grande Fantasie on Russian Folksongs" for piano and orchestra, and this work contained the basic traits of his style.

On this day the "Grande Fantasie" was given a world premier by the English pianist Nicholas Walker and the St Petersburg chamber orchestra of Russian folk instruments "Skomorokhi" under the direction of Viktor Akulovich. Unfortunately this world premier was heard not in the original version, but in an arrangement, albeit a very successful one, for piano and an orchestra of folk instruments.

Then Nicholas Walker played Balakirev's piano sonata – and here the mouths of the listeners fell open, so to speak: the Balakirev work had never before sounded so perfect and substantial in St Petersburg. But when Nicholas Walker performed the extremely difficult "finger breaking" Balakirev transcription of the "Jota Aragonesa" of Glinka the hall simply exploded. This work of Balakirev was played in his time by at most three or four pianists (including here Balakirev himself, Nikolai Rubinstein and two or three pupils of Franz Liszt, who very highly valued the talent of Balakirev).

As a result the St Petersburg public, which had packed the Small Hall of the Conservatory to the full, received a charge of positive emotion, but the professional musicians must have felt their consciences pricked: why had they, and not an Englishman (though a very worthy one!), not opened for the Russian public the music of our great compatriot?" St Petersburg Vedemosti

"Again and again the 'Festival of Rarities' has made us acquainted with notable British pianists. On Thursday evening it was Nicholas Walker. He knew how to shade Field's Nocturnes with sensitivity, and with a clever combination of passion, virtuosity and understatement he made a diverting, poetic pleasure of Rachmaninov's Etudes- Tableaux op.33. Most gripping: Walker's sharply characterised, intelligent rendition of Beethoven's rarely-played, substantial 'Waldmädchen' Variations and Sergei Lyapunov's great F Minor Sonata. Here we were reminded once more how to appreciate the originality of the 55 years older piece. The evening was one of the 'Highlights of Rarities' for this year." Kieler Nachtrichten

"Here an authoritative account [of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto] helped by the urgency of the accompaniment became an interpretation of noticeable freshness. A feeling of inner concentration allied to a necessary bold vigour in the outer movements, with a slow movement of hushed intensity, added to a thoughtful and quite distinguished reading. This was a performance without idiosyncrasy, controlled, at times powerful, and always serene." Birmingham Post

Pianist Nicholas Walker
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