Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, Op.87 (1950/51)
Colin Stone (piano)
rec. February-March 2007, Speech Room, Harrow School, Middlesex
BIG EARS 005 [71:16 + 73:59]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, Op.87 (1950/51)
Jenny Lin (piano)
rec. April 2008, SWR Hans Rosbaud Studio, Baden-Baden, Germany
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.530 [74:40 + 66:43]
I’ve written about David Jalbert’s Shostakovich Preludes & Fugues just a short a while ago (MusicWeb 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 indistinction.
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 Jalbert.
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 come back.
Jens F. Laurson
Once you’ve heard this extraordinary pianist, you are bound to come back … see Full Review