Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Complete Music for Piano Duo and Duet - Volume 1
Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op.70 (1945) [24:55]
Unity/Song of the Great Rivers: Waltz, Op. 95d [1:51]
Ballet Suite No. 2, Op. 89b: No. 3 Polka [1:37]
The Adventures of Korzinkina, Op. 59: No.3, ‘The Chase’ (1940) [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 (pianos)
rec. 17, 20 July 2007, Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios, Borough Green, Kent,
Reviewed as a 16/44.1 download from
Pdf booklet available
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0034
Complete Music for Piano Duo and Duet - Volume 2
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102 (1957) [19:04]
Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 (1971) [41:00]
Min Kyung Kim and Hyung Jin Moon (pianos)
rec. 26–28 May 2015 (symphony) and 11-12 January 2016 (concerto), Murchison
Performing Arts Center, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA
Reviewed as a 24/44.1 download from
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0292
High on my list of piano duo/duet recordings heard or reviewed in recent
years are: Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax’s Brahms, Piazzolla and
Stravinsky, well received by
Albert Lam; and a bravura programme of Martinů, Stravinsky, Poulenc and Shostakovich
from Sanja and Lidija Bizjak, which I
for Download News in 2015. Then the Invencia Duo’s traversal of works by
of which I praised in 2013. Immaculately played, all these recitals are
proof – if it were needed – that the genre contains music of considerable
substance and reward.
Enter Martin Anderson’s enterprising Toccata label, well-known for their
exploration of less-familiar repertoire; I very much enjoyed their recent
concertos, for example. And while Shostakovich isn’t at all peripheral
recordings of his piano duos and duets are comparatively rare.
welcomed the first instalment in the Toccata series, remarking that
pianists Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert have ‘the measure and spirit’ of
these pieces. With a recommendation like that it was hard to resist a quick
download; that, in turn, triggered my interest in the follow-up, with
pianists Min Kyung Kim and Hyung Jin Moon.
Happily Shostakovich often transcribed his orchestral music for piano four
hands, a policy that allowed Party officials to hear the music in advance.
Those same apparatchiks had high hopes for the composer’s Ninth
Symphony which, in the event, eschewed post-war triumphalism in favour of
something inward and quirky. That said, they raised no objections when
Shostakovich and Sviatoslav Richter played the duet for them in September
1945. The symphony itself, premiered two months later, was consigned to the
deep freeze in 1948, only to be reinstated – along with a number of
proscribed pieces – in the post-Stalin thaw.
Vicky Yannoula, born in Corfu, and Jakob Fichert, a Londoner who hails from
Germany, are new to me. They’re in demand on the solo-piano and chamber
circuit in the UK and Europe, and minutes into the symphony it’s not difficult
to see why. Their spring-heeled response to the opening Allegro
strikes just the right note, that jaunty march both sparkling and
spontaneous. The balance is very satisfying and the recording copes well
with the challenging dynamics. The sound is also nicely detailed in quieter
passages; that’s especially welcome at the start of the Moderato,
where clarity and colour really matter.
What I like most about this duo is their selfless playing, directed as it
is towards purely musical ends. Pacing is ideal, rhythms are well judged
and there’s plenty of feeling when required. After that the bright,
energetic Presto is a short but bracing ride, and the declamatory
power of those big, lingering chords in the Largo is frankly
intimidating. The Allegretto certainly has all the dart and deftness
one could wish for, but even more important essential shape and focus are
preserved throughout; that, in turn, contributes to a compelling sense of
structure and purpose.
The shorter pieces, mostly for young hands, are very entertaining. If the Waltz from the East German ‘workers’ documentary’ The Song of the Great Rivers (1954) burbles along then the Polka from the Ballet Suite No. 2 is a veritable mill-race.
And the rollicking pursuit from the 1940 film The Adventures of Korzinkina? It could be the accompaniment to a
Mack Sennett silent. These might seem mere trifles, but they’re superbly
crafted and demand serious keyboard skills. The witty little Tarantella and Merry March, both written for the composer’s
young son Maxim, are no exception.
Next up is the Suite in F sharp minor, written when Shostakovich was
just 16. It’s remarkably Romantic at times, with hints of balletic
Tchaikovsky in the Prelude: Andantino. The playing has splendid
bounce and brio, coupled with a light touch in the Danse fantasque
and a wonderful air of introspection in the Nocturne: Andante. The
closing bars of the latter glow with a contentment that one doesn’t
associate with the older, angst-ridden Shostakovich; indeed, it’s all the
more affecting for that. The Finale, with its heady mix of passion
and percussive edge, confirms the young composer’s burgeoning talent, not
to mention the sheer wizardry of these fine pianists.
The Suite and Concertino are both reasonably well represented
on record. The latter is a delightful single-movement piece written for
Maxim and premiered by him and Alla Maloletkova in 1954. Once again I was
struck by this duo’s bold yet intuitive approach to this music. They
freewheel through the Concertino’s ever-changing landscapes which,
as Malcolm MacDonald points out in his liner-notes, contain pre-echoes of
the Piano Concerto No. 2. Such is their way with Shostakovich’s
irrepressible rhythms and good-natured asides that I laughed out loud.
Really, this is playing of uncommon quality, superbly caught by
producer-engineer Michael Ponder.
For comparison I turned to a Northern Flowers disc that Nick Barnard
in 2010. Pianists Piotr Laul and Alexander Sandler play the Tarantella and Merry March with commendable
enthusiasm, but there’s little of the insight that makes Yannoula and
Fichert so engaging in this repertoire. The same goes for the Concertino and Suite, whose comparative shallowness is
emphasised by the close, rather brash recording. No contest, but there are
alternatives: Sabrina Alberti and Luisi Fanti Zurkowskaja (Dynamic); Aglika
Genova and Liuben Dimitrov (CPO); and a disc of Russian piano music with
Jeremy Brown and Seta Tanyel (Chandos).
Several years and a couple of thousand miles separate the first and second
volumes in this Toccata series. The latter is a thoroughly grown-up
programme devoted to two-piano versions of Shostakovich’s last symphony,
No, 15, and his earlier Piano Concerto No. 2. It seems both are
first recordings, which makes this a most intriguing issue. As with Vicky
Yannoula and Jakob Fichert, the South Korean pianists Min Kyung Kim and
Hyung Jin Moon are unknown to me. That said, their biographical notes speak
of solid talent and a growing reputation as performers.
They start with the concerto, which Maxim premiered on 10 May 1957 (his
19th birthday). Despite the composer’s well-documented dismissal of the
piece it’s fared quite well on record – ArkivMusic list 39 versions in the
current catalogue – and it pops up in the concert hall from time to time.
As David Fanning points out in his detailed liner-notes the two-piano score
is undated, but it was available when Shostakovich père et fils
performed it for the USSR Composers’ Union in April 1957.
The opening Allegro, framed with admirable precision, is an
astonishing reflection of the original. Rhythms are pin sharp and climaxes
emerge without strain. Compared with the first volume this one sounds
rather bright, but that does suit the glittering displays in the concerto’s
outer movements. Any caveats? The pensive Andante could be a little
mores seamless, but there’s no doubting the hushed loveliness at the point
where, in the orchestral version, the piano steals in for the first time.
As before the duo pay close attention to colour and nuance, the
high-spirited Allegro dashed off with little sign of blurring or
The two-piano version of the symphony was first presented by Mieczysław
Weinberg and Boris Tchaikovsky in August 1971 – not 1974, as stated in the
booklet. The clarity of both the playing and recording certainly work well
in the skittish Allegretto, but I longed for a bit more weight and
body which, in turn, would help to heighten contrasts. Still, the South
Koreans do capture the music’s distinctive colours, if not its elliptical
charm. I also feel momentum flags at times, and with that a degree of shape
and cohesion is lost. Apart from the comparatively shallow sound I really
missed the sparky musicianship that makes Yannoula and Fichert so memorable
in this repertoire.
The louring, in-yer-boots character of the second movement is a case in
point; the stark outlines are persuasively drawn, but its equivocal content
doesn’t always come through. In some ways it seems this duo are striving
for effect, and that gives their playing a faintly stilted feel. Make no
mistake, these are very accomplished pianists; I just wanted them to dig a
little deeper. And despite their alacrity in the penultimate movement –
marked Allegretto – their pacing is unaccountably sluggish and some
textures are surprisingly diffuse. That’s certainly not what one wants in
the sign-off, but that’s what one gets. In short, a promising but flawed
release whose failings are magnified in the presence of its illustrious
The first volume deserves to be a Recording of the Month; alas, the
follow-up isn’t of the same ilk.
Previous review (Vol. 1):