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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932/3) [33’52]. Aphorisms, Op. 13 (1927) [13’39]. Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 12 (1926) [14’57]. Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5 (1922) [4’06].
Konstantin Scherbakov (piano).
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, on February 12th-13th, 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.555781 [66’34]

This 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.

Taking 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.

The 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.

In 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).

The 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 its restraint.

A very enjoyable and stimulating disc.

Colin Clarke

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