24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87
Hannes Minnaar (piano)
Challenge Classics CC 72907 (CD/SACD) 150:32 mins (2 discs)
No one undertakes a recording of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues lightly, and Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar engages an authoritative objectivity in running the ever-surprising gamut of moods in this colossal achievement. Like Shostakovich, he has the firmest of bases to carry him through to the poise of No. 23 in F major and the colossal weight of No. 24’s final Prelude and the shift to near-mania in its fugue. He always captures the loneliness of the long-distance runner, too; as he says in a booklet interview, the opening voice of a fugue tends to allow for that, but you find it in surprising corners.
While the toccata brilliance of the minute-ish long A minor and B flat major Preludes is crisp and even, Minnaar doesn’t stint on the violence, either. The craziness of the D flat major Fugue, which he first heard Ashkenazy play when he was 15 and decided he had to play it, is complemented by the tumult of the 12th Fugue in G sharp minor. I like it that the freeing song of No. 13’s Prelude follows on its heels at the end of the first disc – although Shostakovich clearly marked out the former as an apotheosis to a first part, the contrasts are really very strong throughout.
The more cycles I hear – the one before that was Igor Levit’s, live, and Minnaar holds up so well by comparison – the more convinced I am that each Prelude and Fugue works best within its original context. The sound compliments the space of the performances.