”As a pianist, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert are the three composers who speak to me the most deeply, and bring me the greatest challenges. I would have added Bach, if it had not been for the harpsichord issue. Chopin, Schumann and Brahms also hold a prominent place in my musical life, but they do not question me in the same way. I feel as if I were speaking their language quite naturally.”
“My relations with the Russian composers are complicated. I felt I was very close to them, due to my roots and my temperament, but I was convinced that I had to refuse the easy success that they could have brought me, as this would divert me from my ideals. Even so, for me, Rachmaninoff was the best pianist ever. I would have liked to have championed his music even more, of course not his most famous concertos, but some of his most beautiful works which are unjustly neglected, like the Chopin Variations, the Symphonic Dances, and the Fourth Concerto.”
“I have a natural affinity for French music, with Ravel, Debussy of course, and even with Fauré and Saint-Saëns (at one time, I thought of playing his Second Concerto). It was nurtured by my love for this country, for its painting and literature.”
“There are some composers I deeply admire but whom I’ll probably never perform – for example, Prokofiev, whose orchestral works I appreciate – but I cannot help finding his use of the piano too percussive. As for Scriabin, I personally feel his music to be too tormented and poisonous. In the mid-1970s, when Columbia proposed that I record his complete piano works, I just could not do it. I also have tremendous admiration for Franz Liszt, but I performed only one work of his, the 6th Hungarian Rhapsody (I needed a spectacular piece to end my Community Concert recitals). It is very difficult for me to accept the idea that virtuosity is an end in itself, and that the musical material is subject to it. When I play his music, I feel uncomfortable.”
Interviews with Bernard Meillat, from 1987 to 1996
Here are the composers who were of major importance in his life and career. There is also a summary of Istomin’s other musical interests, partly unexpected, from Rosa Ponselle to Frank Sinatra.