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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, Op.87 (1950-51)
David Jalbert (piano)
rec. August-September 2007, Salle Françoys Bernier du Domaine Forget, St.-Irénée, Quebec, Canada. DDD
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD2 2555 [66:14 + 81:11]
Experience Classicsonline

Shostakovich’s “conversation with Bach, over two hundred years” (from Robert R. Reilly, Surprised by Beauty) is a marvelous work that I’ve cherished ever since I discovered it many years ago. No one - apart from Max Reger, perhaps - has so ably paid tribute to Master Bach. In this troubled Russian is unequalled in this 20th-century pendant to the German master's Well-Tempered Clavier. It was my entry to Shostakovich’s more acerbic works. I could - and still can - listen to it over and over again.

Back then there really wasn’t much choice when it came to recordings. Dedicatee Tatyana Nikolayeva - who had inspired Shostakovich to write them in the first place - was the only game in town (on whichever one of her (now four!) recordings was available at any given point). Then along came Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) and, in 2000, Keith Jarrett (ECM) entered the fray. Since then, Preludes and Fugues have been dropping like apples from a tree. Konstantin Scherbakov (Naxos - see review), Caroline Weichert (Accord), Boris Petrushansky (Stradivarius), Mûza Rubackyté (Brilliant Classics), and Kori Bond (Centaur) have pushed the count to a respectable eleven sets. David Jalbert’s on Atma Classique makes it a dozen.

I’ve lived with Jalbert’s Shostakovich Preludes & Fugues for quite a long time now, trying to figure out just how I like it. No matter how many times I listen to it - intently, with the score in hand, or casually, Shostakovich weaving in and out of the background - I can’t find anything that’s wrong with it. Nor anything that makes it particularly noteworthy.

This is unfortunate, because I’d like to take more enjoyment from these works when listening - but competence alone simply does not suffice to lift the conversational spirit from the notes. I am very solidly biased towards Keith Jarrett’s very unfussy, dry and almost flippant account, which comes closest to Bach and made the above-mentioned repeat-listening sessions possible in the first place. Nikolayeva, meanwhile, plays the same works rather more like Schumann. That’s intriguing - and given her history with the work almost mandatory listening - but it’s also tiring over the entire set. Both Ashkenazy and Scherbakov fall somewhere in the middle between these two poles; with the latter finding greater variety and interest in what are already wildly differing Shostakovich-Bach miniatures.

Jalbert is not frustrating to listen to. He is frustrating to come to a conclusion about. Anyone listening to the works for the first time with Jalbert would get the music of Shostakovich in a personality-untainted version and could well judge his or her response to the work on account of its merits. He offers an interpretively clean slate and won’t likely prejudice the ears against any other interpretation, no matter which way they go. The only possible negative aspect I could viably construe is that the whole affair is a touch antiseptic. It’s just not involving enough for me to know how exactly I feel about the performance. Or, since there is a name for that feeling, after all, I am respectfully indifferent towards Mr. Jalbert’s Shostakovich.

Jens F Laurson 

Other reviews of the Preludes & Fugues on Musicweb
Tatiana Nikolayeva - Regis
Konstantin Scherbakov - Naxos
Composer - Monopole (incomplete)
Raymond Clarke - Athene


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