I write a lot of preview pieces for my site at Examiner.com. I try not to play favorites, because I feel it is important to give a fair account of the many options available for concert-going; and that is within the constraint that, with very few exceptions, I only write about events within the San Francisco city limits. Every now and then, however, I find myself previewing an event that has me personally champing at the bit in anticipation of the concert itself. That is definitely the case with the San Francisco debut of Moscow-born pianist Alexander Melnikov, whose concert will finally take place this coming Saturday.
For the most part I try to focus my preview pieces on the music to be performed, rather than the personalities and/or reputations of the performers. The program Melnikov has prepared is a doozy: He will perform the fully cycle of 24 pairings of preludes and fugues in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 87. This is far from an ordinary recital. It will begin at 1:30 PM (a nonstandard time unless German opera is involved); and, including time for a single intermission, it is expected to conclude at 4:30 PM. I shall be interested to see when the intermission takes place. There is an obvious midpoint in the set; but two of the fugues in the second half are particularly long: the three-voice fugue in B-flat minor and the concluding D minor fugue, which is a four-voice double fugue.
Melnikov is currently in the middle of a North American tour, which began this past Sunday. However, while he will play portions for Opus 87 at each of his stops, he is playing the entirety of the collection at only two venues, here in San Francisco and at the Mahaney Center for the Arts at Middlebury College in Vermont. Fortunately, he has also recorded Opus 87 in its entirety, released last year on the harmonia mundi label. I have been listening to it religiously in preparation for Saturday’s concert. I have found that, as is the case with Johann Sebastian Bach’s similar effort (BWV 846–893), it helps for me to get a general sense of the whole work into my head through repeated listening. In the case of Bach, I often try to put in time attempting to play some of the preludes and fugues myself; but I have not yet worked up the courage to do the same with Shostakovich. Indeed, I have not even purchased a copy of the sheet music, simply because I feel an obligation to get my ears in shape before worrying about burying my eyes in the score pages. Yes, I know this will be a bit of a marathon experience; but I am now sufficiently stoked for the occasion that I feel it will be well worth running!