Shostakovich: 24 Preludes, Op. 34; Piano Sonata No. 1; Three Fantastical Dances; Aphorisms

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: 24 Preludes, Op. 34; Piano Sonata No. 1; Three Fantastical Dances; Aphorisms
PERFORMER: Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555781
The remarkable First Piano Sonata presents Shostakovich in a defiantly modernist pose, challenging conventional notions of structural coherence while assaulting the ear with passages of grinding dissonances. No less iconoclastic are the Aphorisms – curiously morbid and introspective miniatures that provide an intriguing foretaste of Shostakovich’s late style. By contrast, the 24 Preludes cover a more comprehensive emotional spectrum in which irony and uproarious humour coexist with lyricism and gentle nostalgia.

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Konstantin Scherbakov certainly has the measure of the almost quixotic contrasts of mood in the latter work, demonstrating sensitive and technically brilliant playing that is captured in a recording of outstanding clarity and perspective. I admire in particular the daringly fast speed which he adopts for Prelude No. 5, though a poor bit of editing appears to have cut short the sustained left-hand minim at the beginning of bar 16. For the most part, Scherbakov is scrupulous in adhering to Shostakovich’s dynamics, so it might be carping to suggest that the relatively tame final note in Prelude No. 10 could have more obviously matched the composer’s prescribed treble fortissimo.

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In the First Sonata, Scherbakov is careful not to overload the work’s percussive qualities, building up climaxes patiently and avoiding bluster for its own sake. Arguably this approach robs the work of some of its relentless immediacy – a quality that is more apparent in Colin Stone’s 1996 Olympia recording, though the latter pianist is marginally less imaginative in the Preludes. Of other currently available recordings, Raymond Clarke on Athena offers some insights into the Preludes and the First Sonata, but Scherbakov’s programme is ultimately the more satisfying. Erik Levi