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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Piano Sonata #2, Op 61 (1942) [27.27]
Three Fantastic Dances, Op 5 (1922) [3.51]
Five Preludes (1921) [6.30]
Dances of the Dolls: Lyric Waltz (1952) [1.41]
The Gadfly, Op 97: Short Piece; Spanish Dance (1955) [2.03]
The Limpid Stream, Op 39: Nocturne (1935) [2.17]
Aphorisms, Op 13 (1927) [13.30]
The Golden Age: Polka (1930) [1.54]
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
Steinway Piano supplied by Steinway & Sons.
Notes in English, Français, and Deutsch. Photo of composer.
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 24 April and 12 September 2003
CD Stereo 2.0 and SACD Stereo 2.0, and surround 4.0 PCM recording
Hybrid SACD playable on SACD players and CD players

DECCA 470 649-2 [61.43]

Comparison Recordings:
Emil Gilels, Sonata #2 RCA LP LSC 2868
Vladimir Viardo, Sonata #2 Elektra Nonesuch 9 79234-2

When Ashkenazy plays Shostakovich, something wonderful happens that has never happened before. This is the first credible performance of the Second Sonata. There may be several reasons other than the one I’ve alluded to. First, in his Fifteenth Symphony Shostakovich revealed several things about himself he had never revealed before — notably he showed up the critics who had seriously underestimated the influences of Rossini and of the German Romantics in his work. Performances accomplished before the Fifteenth Symphony was performed might be done in relative ignorance of these influences. Ashkenazy has played Schumann brilliantly, and I hear the influence of Schumann in Ashkenazy’s performance of this sonata whereas neither I nor the other performers who have recorded this work, even those who knew Shostakovich, seem to have heard it.

After the Sonata, the rest of the works on this disk are very brief, the shortest only 29 seconds long. The Five Preludes of 1921 are distinct works from the 24 Preludes of Opus 34 (1935) or the Preludes and Fugues of Opus 87, not earlier versions of these later works. The three Fantastic Dances were originally published as Op 1, Op 2, and Op 3, and later gathered and republished as Opus 5, which is what is shown in the track listing. But Eric Rosebury in his notes refers to them as "Opus 1" perhaps because, like me, he owns the earlier edition of the music. The first two of the Fantastic Dances are very reminiscent of Satie.

Aphorism #3, Nocturne, is written without bar lines or key signature. The following Elegy, written without key signature in alternating 4/4 and 5/4 time seems almost as free in tempo, whereas the succeeding numbers make almost sarcastic use of strict dance rhythms. #8 Canon, again with no key signature, is as close to 12 tone music as Shostakovich ever got. The Legend is almost frightening in its moody, mysterious growling sound. Lullaby is a very free singing line over a regular ostinato bass. In these brief, brilliant, highly experimental works Shostakovich roughed out the musical territory he would spend the rest of his life exploring in detail.

This is the first Decca high resolution recording I have encountered, and you will note that it is not a DSD recording, which is all to the good. My observation is that 4.0 surround sound is entirely adequate for solo piano. The discrete surround tracks will accurately reproduce the acoustic of the recording studio. The producer has evidently set up some highly reflective panels near the piano in the recording studio (or the piano has some odd internal resonance, which is unlikely) to give an emphasised, even sarcastic, brilliance to the piano’s high notes, but in the surround tracks this results in an echo that some may find objectionable. You may prefer, as I do, to play the 2.0 stereo SACD tracks utilising your surround sound decoder for a warmer and more realistic sound. And, again, the CD tracks on this SACD will not play on my Sony DDU 1621 computer DVD drive, and Sony has not yet offered any firmware update to correct the problem, which does not occur with my other Sony drives.

Paul Shoemaker

Paul Shoemakers guide to audio formats


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