Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Symphony No. 9 in E flat major Op.70 (1945) [24:55]
Unity waltz Op.95d [1:51]
Ballet Suite No. 2 Op. 89b: No. 3 Polka [1:37]
Korzikana’s Adventures Op. 59: No.3, ‘The Chase’ [2:51]
Suite for Two Pianos in F sharp minor Op.6 (1922) [29:39]
Tarantella for Two Pianos Op. 84d (1953) [1:32]
Merry March for Two Pianos Op. 84c (1949) [2:01]
Concertino for Two Pianos in A minor Op.94 (1953) [10:19]
Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert (piano duet/duo)
rec. 17, 20 July 2007, Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0034 [75:46]
Shostakovich’s work for piano duet and duo may be of lower profile than his symphonies, string quartets and solo piano repertoire, but still contains some of his finest music. Recordings have emerged from the Northern Flowers label (see review) and elsewhere, but this Toccata Classics set seeks to go a considerable step further. Shostakovich’s routine habit for his orchestral works was to make a transcription for piano four hands, so that the music could be ‘tried out’, not only for his own use, but so that Communist Party officials could hear for themselves and decide if a new work was suited to the ideals of the party and therefore appropriate for public performance. This version of the Symphony No.9 was therefore almost certainly written alongside the orchestral score. The work was famously supposed to be a massive celebration of victory over the Nazis in 1945, but turned out to have an entirely different character. The piano duet version of this piece is a highlight of this disc as you might expect, and with an excellent performance and recording the work takes on an entirely new life in this setting. In short, it ‘works’ as a piano piece, with only a few passages during the slower movements and the extended build-up towards the end of the final movement where the sustaining quality and colourful impact of orchestral instruments are missed to a certain extent. Right from the moment where Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert hammer out the accompaniment and bring out that witty theme at 0:48 into the first movement we know we’re in for a treat. Much of the music has been described as ‘Haydnesque’ or indeed light and bouncy in nature, at times bringing the nervy rhythms of Prokofiev to mind, and this is something which makes it sound as if written for the piano. The clarity of the bass lines, the variety of ‘oom-pah’ rhythms driving on terrifically and the exposed nature of the harmonies all work in excellent fashion, and the whole thing is a discovery and a feast for Shostakovich fans.
Lighter works and arrangements are of course part of the Shostakovich piano canon, and the waltz and polka numbers here are ‘pop’ pieces which entertain but needn’t delay us too long. Malcolm MacDonald’s booklet notes go into the origins of these pieces in some detail. That Polka from the Ballet Suite No. 2 is perhaps the most familiar, and as a litmus test shows how much fun the Yannoula and Fichert duo can make of these minor works. ‘The Chase’ from the film score to Korzikana’s Adventures is a magnificently daft romp.
For the works with two pianos we get a still very good but slightly different recorded perspective, and there are one or two minor tuning issues – a twangy effect in one of the upper notes with the piano already used for the duet pieces, and between the two instruments on occasion. Have a listen at 1:47 on the opening movement of the Suite and you’ll hopefully hear what I mean. These are actually quite minor issues, but can’t be left unmentioned. The Suite Op.6 is Shostakovich’s earliest surviving two-piano work, and pregnant with the emotions surrounding the sudden death of Dmitri’s father in February 1922. The chiming bells and romantic overtones are very nicely played here, placed effectively in Shostakovich’s early idiom, performed with warm sonority and without too much stretching of the phrases in the beautiful Nocturne, and conveying all of the rhythmic verve of the swifter movements.
The Concertino is a later work, written for Shostakovich’s son Maxim and having some of the character of his second Piano Concerto which was to come a few years later. This work has if anything the most orchestral character of all the pieces here, and the duo builds up huge volumes of sound in a highly effective performance.
With some fascinating piano duet versions of Shostakovich’s symphonies to look forward to this promises to be a series to collect. None of the performances here disappoint, the recording standard is high, and Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert have the measure and spirit of all of this music very much at their fingertips.