is a very useful selection of piano works by Shostakovich. Konstantin
Scherbakov seems to be HNH’s resident Russian virtuoso, taking
the Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies and Schubert/Godowsky Lied transcriptions
in his stride. Here he presents a fascinating hour’s worth, beginning
with the marvellous 24 Preludes, Op. 34.
up half of the playing time, these Preludes are fairly mellow
Shostakovich (in comparison with the brutalities of the First
Sonata, anyway). The very first opens with a romantically-inclined
Alberti bass, soon spiced up by the right hand’s musings. The
odd accent from Scherbakov breaks the phrase structure, but otherwise
this bodes well. Scherbakov’ sense of fantasy comes to the fore
in No. 2, contrasting very well with the dreamier No. 3 (G major).
The unexpected appearance of fanfares is effective as a dramatic
stroke, as presented here. In fact Scherbakov seems to have all
of the technical resources easily at his command for these miniatures.
He is dexterous in No. 5, manic in No. 9and humorous in Nos. 15
and 16, for example. Perhaps grotesquery could be even more in
the spiky No. 6, but his final Prelude, reminiscent of Debussy’s
‘Minstrels’ Prélude in its stop-start hesitancy,
is more than acceptable.
First Piano Sonata is an explosive work, and Scherbakov presents
its rawness unapologetically, right from the word go. He uses
an appropriately hard touch (verging on the martellato,
but not quite there: a legato foundation is always somewhere in
the background). The piece is only a quarter of an hour long,
but its unrelenting ethos makes it really quite exhausting to
listen to. Scherbakov elicits some brutal, cavernous sounds from
his concert grand along the way (around 8’30 in, for example),
and the end is, perhaps unsurprisingly, brutal.
keeping with the composer’s questing side, the infrequently-recorded
Aphorisms, Op. 13 (1927) are exploratory miniatures. The
first (‘Recitative’) is essentially aimless meandering, and all
the more unsettling for it. Scherbakov is the interpretative equal
to all of these brief statements. Typically, any notions invoked
by the title ‘Nocturne’ (No. 3) are seemingly contradicted by
the musical surface (unless this is a nightmare, that is). Shostakovich
gives his imagination full rein here. He is equally questing in
the’Canon’ (No. 8) which exudes an atonal, almost Webernian, aura,
or in what the booket writer, Richard Whitehouse, accurately refers
to as the ‘surreal calm’ of the ‘Legend’ (No. 9).
Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 13 forms the perfect close
to the recital. Scherbakov’s ‘March’ is feather-light, his ‘Waltz’
hesitant and nostalgia-laden, his closing ‘Polka’ effective in
very enjoyable and stimulating disc.