Author Topic: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues  (Read 22081 times)

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Online Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #100 on: March 25, 2020, 04:40:26 AM »
B flat major – All 3 performances are decent, but I think I slightly prefer Lin. The music benefits both from her clarity and from her being the one who seems to heed that the fugue is marked Allegro non troppo. Melnikov positively races for the finish line in comparison.

G minor – Melnikov and Lin both give a very nice flow to the music. Nikolayeva is okay but sounds a bit too measured in comparison. By the time she gets to the end of the fugue it feels bogged down.

F major – For some reason all of the pianists believe the semiquaver figure in the prelude needs to be pushed and pulled, which I don’t love (though it’s most noticeable with Lin). Lin and Melnikov both pick a better tempo than Nikolayeva, giving the Adagio a gentle sense of flow whereas Nikolayeva’s is a bit ponderous. Everyone’s fugues sound pretty good, but I think I slightly prefer Lin’s fractionally slower rendition (and Nikolayeva is the fastest).

D minor – The grand finale. And it needs to be grand. Nikolayeva is fully committed to making it a drama, but she stalls in the first part of the fugue because she makes it the same pace as the prelude (Andante is supposed to shift to Moderato). Lin has much better tempo relationships. She also has less apparent drama for much of it, but during the second half of the fugue I found myself realising that she’d gradually increased the passion and it was completely there when it needed to be for the climax. Melnikov tends to share a little more of Nikolayeva’s sense of emotional weight while having more workable tempos, so perhaps he just edges Lin though not my much. Goodness knows I was feeling like I’d had a workout near the end of his fugue. I just wish he’d held the final notes longer!
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Online Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #101 on: March 25, 2020, 05:07:58 AM »
Right. So where that does that leave me?

I've decided in the end not to go back and specifically score "wins" because some of those wins are by a fair margin, some of them are borderline and in some cases I might as well have called a draw. There are times when I've trying to decide whether someone's great prelude is more important than someone's excellent fugue.

I suspect, though, that if I tried to make this mathematical then Melnikov might come up trumps. But that impression might also be because he tends to be a success in some 'bigger' or profound pieces (more on that in a moment) whereas Lin's greatest triumphs are in lighter ones. I was only doing this with 3 pianists, and even then all 3 of them have sometimes been my clear winner and sometimes been my clear loser. For me they all crash a little somewhere across the 48 movements, and also have some very satisfying moments.

Nikolayeva is the reason I got to know and fall in love with this music in the first place. She can make the music sound very Russian and give it weight and drama. However, there are also plenty of times that she makes it drag. There were certain pieces, especially in the 2nd half, that I used to find myself mentally switching off in, and I now know that it was Nikolayeva making it ponderous. It's often considered that she recorded the Hyperion set past her prime, and at some point I'll have to try her 2 earlier ones. But there are still real successes here, including times when she lets the music move more and times when her decision to let the music breathe longer proves to be the wiser choice.

Lin's rendition is very different. Her touch is light and clean and this brings huge benefits in pieces that need a sense of dance or lift. Some of her best moments are actually when she's a little bit slower and still brings lift to the music at the same time. Against that, she can't always bring as much sense of weight to the music that wants it, and in the 2 most furious fugues (G sharp minor and D flat major) she sounds like she's afraid of them.

Melnikov often shares elements of Nikolayeva's musical sense without taking on her more laboured tempos. He has more tendency to shape the music in a more 'Romantic' conception, pushing and pulling. And in many cases he does this beautifully, managing some of the more emotionally charged pieces exceptionally well. But in other cases I think he goes overboard.

One of the things I've long been aware of is the sheer variety of music in op.87, covering everything from the almost Renaissance-sounding B flat minor prelude and fugue to the very modern D flat major one. Some pieces have classical poise and others have romantic drama. If anything, this exercise has really demonstrated just how challenging it is for one pianist to adjust themselves to cover the whole range.
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Offline Kaga2

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #102 on: March 25, 2020, 06:20:40 AM »
Interesting summary. Of these I only have Tatianna. She was also how I got to love these. I think she will always be my favorite because I imprinted on her. Like Boehm and Mozart.  I will see if I can dig out one of my other ones today though.

Offline Irons

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #103 on: March 27, 2020, 12:50:52 AM »
Interesting summary indeed. Madiel, after getting to know these works so well, and allowing for the fact they are not typical of him, would it be fanciful to claim that the Preludes and Fugues contain some of Shostakovich's finest music? If not, where would you place them?
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Online Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #104 on: March 27, 2020, 01:14:27 AM »
Madiel, after getting to know these works so well, and allowing for the fact they are not typical of him, would it be fanciful to claim that the Preludes and Fugues contain some of Shostakovich's finest music? If not, where would you place them?

I do think they're right up there, yes (and I agree that they don't seem typical). And I've previously seen someone argue that op.87 is Shostakovich's masterpiece, so it's not an unusual claim to make.

What I think is remarkable about them is the sense that it's a single, epic work, not 24 little separate works. The moods and styles seem very much planned for overall variety and contrast and even progression, so that for example you get the fierce number 12 followed by the serene number 13, then things escalate over numbers 14 and 15 before number 16 drops the temperature down again. In this I see the model as being more Chopin's 24 Preludes (and perhaps Shostakovich's own previous set of 24 Preludes which I don't know very well yet), rather than Bach.

And as well as some really clear examples of integrating a prelude and fugue pair, there are examples where it seems pretty likely that Shostakovich took a figure from one piece and deliberately used it in another (for example, the prelude in E minor starts with a quaver figure that matches one in the prelude in G major).

There's a notion that it's all too academic and of course at the time Shostakovich got accused of the great Soviet artistic sin of 'formalism', but to me it's truly remarkable just how unacademic the results are. Within the formal strictures, Shostakovich created music of astonishing range.
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Offline Kaga2

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #105 on: March 27, 2020, 06:45:57 AM »
I certainly think they are his best music, and very great music indeed. They are not really typical though are they? I am trying to think of another example like this. Holst maybe and the Planets?

Offline Irons

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #106 on: March 27, 2020, 12:23:43 PM »
You do get the feeling that you would be able to spend a lifetime listening to them and would still discover new things. Great music can be listened at all levels, the academic and someone like myself with no musical training whatever can get so much from them.

Mozart paid homage to Bach as many other composers, but I cannot think of any work that is so different from what is the accepted style of a composer’s output.
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Online Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #107 on: March 27, 2020, 01:00:28 PM »
Some of it is still very Shostakovich. The D flat prelude is very much one of HIS waltzes. He did passacaglias like the G sharp minor prelude a number of times before and after (eg in the string quartets). And there are other pieces with a Russian or sardonic tinge to them.
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Offline Iota

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #108 on: March 28, 2020, 01:56:20 PM »

Thanks for your thoughts and review of the Shostakovich, Madiel, very interesting reading. I agree with many of your points, amongst others, it feeling like a cycle in the Chopin Op.28 manner, and Melnikov's often being a more 'romantic' conception. In terms of building climaxes he is the most persuasive I know, the final D minor fugue sends shivers up my spine, in that way surpassing even Sherbakov whom overall I prefer.

And I very particularly  agree with this:

There's a notion that it's all too academic and of course at the time Shostakovich got accused of the great Soviet artistic sin of 'formalism', but to me it's truly remarkable just how unacademic the results are. Within the formal strictures, Shostakovich created music of astonishing range.

I'd be interested to hear what you think of Scherbakov, if you ever stray that way.


Online Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #109 on: March 28, 2020, 02:52:27 PM »
I might try Scherbakov on streaming. I know a lot of people like him.

When I was 'sampling' various recordings rather than listening in full, and deciding what to buy (the process that ended up leading me to purchase Lin and Melnikov), I remember finding Scherbakov rather promising but then finding a few instances where he did something I found very odd and off-putting.

But that was when my reference point was primarily what I knew from Nikolayeva, plus a little knowledge of the score (some P&Fs much more than others). Now that I've got to know several versions I might feel differently.

PS Melnikov's ability to shape the music for a climax really is good, isn't it!
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #110 on: March 28, 2020, 04:04:24 PM »
Aye!
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