Shostakovich: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; 24 Preludes, Op. 34; Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 87/24

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Athene Minerva
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; 24 Preludes, Op. 34; Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 87/24
PERFORMER: Raymond Clarke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ATH CD 18
This marks my first acquaintance with Raymond Clarke’s playing, though his name had reached me courtesy of several very glowing reviews by authoritative critics. And to judge from his playing here, he is indeed a musician-pianist who commands instant respect. Among the most obvious of his virtues in this demanding recital is a keen sense of proportion, complemented by a sense of rhythmic momentum which keeps the ear engaged at all times. Unfortunately, the recorded sound here leaves a great deal to be desired, being rather the aural equivalent of a home movie, and the piano sound is often frustratingly woolly and bland, blurring the edges of music whose tonal bite is an essential part of its character. Given Clarke’s reputation as an interpreter of that colouristic masterpiece, Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus, as well as Ravel and the complete sonatas of Prokofiev, I’m more inclined to blame the instrument than the artist, but I do feel, nevertheless, that much of this music calls for a more extreme dynamic range, a much closer juxtaposition of extreme dynamic contrasts, and a greater angularity of their deployment than I find here.

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One casualty of the pianist’s above-mentioned sense of proportion, for my tastes anyway, is an excess of foreground symmetry. I miss a really dynamic sense of forward-directed energy, and I really do feel, whatever the source, that the colouristic range is almost distractingly narrow. A forte is a forte is a forte, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and the same applies at other levels. I also feel a want of really ‘sprung’ articulation, such as one gets in the superlatively authoritative and resourceful performances of this repertoire by Nikolayeva on Hyperion. Jeremy Siepmann