Sunday, December 1, 2019

Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich on Melodiya

from the Web page for this recording

This past October the Russian Melodiya label (originally called the “All-Union Gramophone Record Firm of the USSR Ministry of Culture Melodiya”) released a five-CD box of recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich at the piano playing an impressive (even if far from complete) account of his own music. Over the course of the diverse selections, one gets to listen to selections from the composer’s own works for solo piano, both of his piano concertos, four chamber music pieces, one song cycle, and his own two-piano arrangement of his Opus 93 (tenth) symphony in E minor. Other notable performers in the collection include violinist David Oistrakh, the Beethoven Quartet (which premiered thirteen of Shostakovich’s fifteen string quartets), soprano Nina Dorliak (wife of pianist Sviatoslav Richter), and composer Mieczysław Weinberg, who provided the other two hands for the Opus 93 recording.

In spite of what may be missing, the collection as a whole provides a rich perspective of the differing dispositions in Shostakovich’s compositions and the composer’s own approach to unfolding those dispositions. Thus, the listener can appreciate the sophisticated contrapuntal discipline behind the last (Number 24 in D minor) of the Opus 87 collection of 24 preludes and fugues for solo piano; but Shostakovich knows how to balance that discipline against an expressive account, whose well-considered climax moments never go “over the top” into self-indulgent excess. At the other extreme Shostakovich-the-concerto-soloist knows the full breadth of belly laughs in both the Opus 35 (in C minor) and the Opus 102 (in F major) concertos but never forces any of his jokes on the listener. A more subtle sense of humor can be found in the third of the Opus 5 Fantastic Dances, an Allegretto, which can easily be taken as a poke in the ribs at the fifth (Presto) movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 131 string quartet in C-sharp minor. Yet another extreme can be found in the Opus 67 piano trio in E minor, music so harrowing that Shostakovich makes it clear that the notes can speak for themselves without undue prodding from the performers. Oistrakh is the violinist, but cellist Miloš Sádlo wins the prize for an account of the opening measures that is as chilling as it is true to all of the marks that Shostakovich set down on paper.

The one frustration is a lack of a thorough account of the circumstances under which all this material was recorded. In the case of the thirteen selections from Opus 87, there is no information at all other than the name of the engineer responsible for remastering the recordings. Most interesting, however, is the fact (which is mentioned) that the performance of the Opus 134 violin sonata was recorded (with Oistrakh) in Shostakovich’s own apartment. Thus, while there are any number of ways in which one can complain about what is missing, there are far too many rich listening experiences to justify belaboring those complaints!

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