Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Buttoned-up Shostakovich

I consider the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich to be, along with the Bachianas Brasileiras of Villa-Lobos, the greatest 20th Century response to J.S. Bach. Honestly, if I had to choose between the two on my way to a Desert Island, I'm not sure which I'd pick. Considering my Villa-Lobos life, that's saying a lot. Ever since I heard the composer himself play six of the preludes and fugues on an old Seraphim LP this music has been a constant companion. I have Alexander Melnikov's 2014 Harmonia Mundi set on my phone right now, but over the years I've been enthusiastic about versions by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jenny Lin, David Jalbert, and especially Keith Jarrett. By the way, I'm underwhelmed by the classic recording of Tatiana Nikolaeva, though this seems to be a minority opinion.

I know Peter Donohoe mainly from his many recordings of British music, though I also think he's an exceptional Brahmsian. This new Shostakovich set, due to be released on April 7, 2017, is apparently the first in a series from Signum Classics. My initial response to the present disc is quite positive, though I worry about the slightest tendency toward blandness. One of the things I value about this music is the very personal response of Shostakovich to his Bachian models. It doesn't hurt, I believe, to underline the composers' characteristic flashes of wit, sarcasm, anger and despair or his forays into folkloric and Jewish music. I wouldn't expect Donohoe to bring quite the swing here that Jarrett does, but I do prefer a somewhat more dynamic approach. Still, I do admire much about this recording, and look forward to listening to this some more.

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