Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues explored by Peter Donohoe

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: 24 Preludes and Fugues
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD396

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Given the centrality of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues to his own musical development, let alone that of 20th-century piano music repertory as a whole, it is somewhat surprising that relatively few performers have recorded the complete work. Perhaps some have been inhibited by the continued presence in the catalogue of several recordings made by Tatiana Nikolayeva, whose performances of Bach inspired the composer to write the work in the first place. Perhaps, too, some are simply overwhelmed by its monumental scale requiring an interpreter with a strong intellectual grasp of the musical argument as a well as a capacity to weld the cycle into a convincing structural entity without undermining the varied contrasts in moods and character of each individual piece.

Peter Donohoe approaches the music with detachment and a good deal of poise, observing Shostakovich’s sparse performing instructions to the letter. His control of fingerwork in the more densely textured movements, such as the frenzied quasi-atonal D flat major Fugue, is mightily impressive, and the limpid Bachian figurations of the A minor Prelude have wonderful clarity. At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, he achieves a beautifully wispy introspective sound in the modal arabesque writing of the B flat minor Fugue, and brings out all the despair and loneliness of the profoundly sad F sharp minor Fugue. Donohoe demonstrates a formidable architectural grasp of the quasi-symphonic final D minor Fugue, though in the last resort the big treble fortissimo climax near the end doesn’t sound quite as overwhelming as on the rival recording from Alexander Melnikov on Harmonia Mundi.

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Erik Levi