I’ve written about David Jalbert’s Shostakovich Preludes &
Fugues just a short a while ago (review
Now there are already two more complete recordings on the market.
About Jalbert, I said that competence alone simply does not suffice
to lift the conversational spirit from the notes. The same could
be said for Colin Stone, on the Big Ears label. He aims straight
at middle-of-the-run and succeeds very nicely indeed, blending
in among the other available versions … to beautiful, discriminating
As I don’t get tired of re-stating, I am very solidly biased towards
Keith Jarrett’s unfussy account, which comes so close to Bach.
Jarrett’s Prelude in C is swift like nobody’s business, and while
135 seconds doesn’t look that much faster than the average 160
seconds of Jalbert/Lin/Stone, it sounds just about twice as fast.
In turn, Jarrett takes the Fugue almost provocatively slow, something
he has in common with Jalbert (5:10). Lin in turn shifts gears
for the Fugue and is done with it in under three minutes where
Jarrett spends shy of six; Stone just under, Jalbert just over
five. This tendency — Jarret fast Preludes, Lin fast Fugues, Jalbert
generally slow - it admittedly pays off in his attractive D major
and E minor Preludes - and Stone midway between extremes —remains
true for many of the remaining Prelude & Fugue pairs.
In being faster, not just
in the Fugues, Jarrett avoids
any sense of that “get on with it, already” feeling present with
all the rest. Jarrett works through the pieces like an inspired
machine; the total lack of wallowing inoculates him against any
lingering late-romantic feelings. Perhaps that, more than the
gorgeous spacious acoustic and great sound of the ECM recording
and more than his great alertness, is the reason why I can listen
to his recording over and over without tiring; many of the others
— including Nikolayeva — not.
Lin stands out among the none-Jarrettists: Her note-attacks are
spunky and intense, compared with which Jalbert has a paltry —
even limpid — touch. Stone is somewhere between the two, which,
along with superior piano-sound - the piano is caught closer and
in greater detail - lifts his interpretation well above that of
Austro-Taiwanese Jenny Lin can’t make ‘fast’ sound as natural
as Jarrett - the A minor Fugue and the F sharp minor Prelude,
for example, sound stilted - but she’s capable of personal statements
and individual color without bending the Preludes and Fugues out
of shape. The direct sound of the Hänssler recording further enhances
Lin’s distinctive character, distinguishing her from the more
conventional Stone. Neither enjoy the natural reverb typical of
ECM recordings … which is employed to gorgeous effect with Jarrett.
Listen, for example, to the low bass notes of the E minor Prelude
as they ring out like a pedal point on an organ. Yet none of the
detail of Jarrett’s rapid passagework smudges.
Lin’s addition to the Prelude & Fugue catalogue means a new
frontrunner for the pack of non-Jarrett, non-Nikolayeva recordings.
And were it not for the latter’s special historical status, I’d
take Lin over her, too. Lin’s and Stone’s recordings are bad news
for Jalbert, meanwhile. What first seemed a nondescript addition
to the catalogue is exposed as below par. Especially since Stone
shows that even while remaining unremarkable, it is possible consistently
to project more of Shostakovich’s poignancy. Jalbert, more often
than not, raises questions as to why the composer ever bothered.
For what looks like a home-produced CD - is “Big Ears” the artist’s
own label? - Colin Stone’s is a remarkable achievement. His release
can hold its own next to Scherbakov and Ashkenazy. Jenny Lin’s
recording simply is the continuation and affirmation of her excellence.
Once you’ve heard this extraordinary pianist, you are bound to
Jens F. Laurson