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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932-33) [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
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk on 12-13 February, 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.555781 [66:34]

With the significance of the chamber, stage and symphonic works of Dmitri Shostakovich so self evident, it is easy to forget that the great Russian composer was an accomplished keyboard virtuoso, and poured some of his most intimate and adventuresome ideas into his works for piano solo. This recital by Konstantin Scherbakov is a treasure trove of delights, performed to an extremely high standard.

The twenty-four preludes of opus 34 were clearly modeled after the similar works of Chopin, right down to their following of the same key scheme. Although the likenesses are many, the music is completely original and varied in its moods and structures. Most impressive is the economy of means that Shostakovich employs to express so wide a range of emotions and attitudes. Every possible mindset is expressed from playful to melancholy, brash to barbaric, lyrical to thunderous. Scherbakov is a player with a keen sense of form and style, and he has technique to burn in some writing that is certainly knuckle busting. If one were to seek one word to describe this set, perhaps ‘refreshing’ would be the most accurate. Never long, these little gems are "prick up your ears" intelligent and refined.

The Aphorisms composed some years before the preludes are considerably more far-reaching in their span of ideas. Here the composer allows his imagination to run free, and the formal structure and tonal language is much more liquid and experimental. Clearly works that predate Socialist Realism, these are thought-provoking and stimulating miniatures, played with great subtlety and creativity by pianist Scherbakov.

Although nominally in C major, the Sonata of 1926 shows the composer at his freewheeling apex. Sounds explode from the piano: harsh, angular, florid and occasionally reflective. The image of a young talent strutting his stuff and pounding his audience with music solely on his own terms comes quickly to mind. Again, Mr. Scherbakov delivers the goods wrapped up in gold leaf. He roars and thunders with abandon and throws off this difficult work with seemingly effortless ease.

The program closes with the delightfully elegant Three Fantastic Dances, one of the few works written before the composer’s significant First Symphony to remain in circulation during his lifetime. Utterly charming, this is four minutes of splendid writing and playing.

Naxos give us a recording that is a little on the bright side, but given the character of the music, this is hardly offensive. Program notes by Richard Whitehouse are concise and informative. This recital is a fine alternative to the run-of-the-mill piano disc, and a worthy addition to any record shelf. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Colin Clarke

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