Author Topic: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues  (Read 36707 times)

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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #180 on: July 17, 2021, 04:00:13 AM »
Next one on my list to listen to was Ashkenazy, who I might possibly have heard before but I'm not completely certain (maybe it was just some sampling).



My very first impression was a surprising one, in that I felt the recording wasn't that great. But I subsequently think that maybe it was just that Ashkenazy uses quite muted tones for the C major prelude and fugue, and the A minor prelude, which is fair enough.

And once I adjusted for that my initial impressions were pretty favourable. To me the first 4 preludes and fugues are a real test of whether a pianist is going to give each p&f its own character, and Ashkenazy does (including those initial muted tones). The G major is one place where being a bit heavy-sounding is not a flaw, it's an appropriate expression of the pesante marking. The E minor prelude is one of the slower readings, but not excessively so and that's far better than being fast and glib in this sombre music, and the fugue is well judged  - the gear change is very slight in terms of tempo but Ashkenazy gives a sense of ever-growing intensity that's very nice. Similar comments could be made about the other p&f with a double fugue, the concluding D minor.

And in lots of places, while I wouldn't say that Ashkenazy's reading is a terribly 'Romantic' one, he does give character. The E major prelude is fantastically moody. I think he also manages to give unusually convincing cases for many of his faster tempos: the B minor p&f has military echoes, the B major p&f has a real scherzo feel and a mood akin to the 9th symphony (and sets up a fastish G sharp minor prelude surprisingly well), the B flat minor prelude works at speed because it still has delicacy and room to breathe.

He even manages to kind of convince me of a pretty darn fast F sharp major, though I don't think the fugue really qualifies as Adagio and it diminishes the contrast with the next piece... The 2nd half in general seems slightly weaker because of a few places where there's less contrast than is ideal. The E flat p&f really seems excessively fast.

So I don't love everything. But then that's true of every recording thus far. There's a heck of a lot to like here, though, and I'd rate this as one of the better choices. Amongst the slightly faster overall readings I think this and Lin are the best ones I've heard to date (quite different from each other though).
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #181 on: July 17, 2021, 05:15:15 AM »
Nice!
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Offline Brian

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #182 on: July 17, 2021, 05:18:30 AM »
Just my $0.02 as a very casual listener, I got the 60 CD Ashkenazy box that is "artist choice" of his personal favorite solo/chamber recordings, and from like 1975-1995 Decca did frequently record him in really shabby sound. Muted, or colorless, or harsh early digital. The worst offender is a Prokofiev twin bill of R&J and Cinderella piano versions. Shocking mistreatment by a major label (and no remastering either).

But I did enjoy the DSCH set so feel glad to be vindicated there!

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #183 on: July 18, 2021, 05:42:18 AM »
as a very casual listener, I got the 60 CD

If that's casual I'll be afraid when you use the phrase "hardcore"! :laugh:

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #184 on: July 18, 2021, 07:15:31 AM »
If that's casual I'll be afraid when you use the phrase "hardcore"! :laugh:

(* chortle *)
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #185 on: July 26, 2021, 03:31:36 AM »


The first recording of op.87 by some margin was of course Nikolayeva. This is my first time listening to it.

There’s no question the recording quality is poor relative to modern renditions. The sound is constricted. It is at least listenable, but there are times when things get pretty muddy (the G major fugue or G sharp minor fugue for example, and other fast and loud climaxes). There are also technical deficiencies in some spots that suggest Nikolayeva didn’t record things lots of times over the way one might in a modern recording studio.

I knew this was faster than Nikolayeva’s later recordings. What’s striking is that in some instances she’s faster than most people. This seems to happen in fugues in particular – The C major, A minor, D major, A major and E major are all noticeably zippy (a couple of them a little uncomfortably so). Nikolayeva’s general conception of the pieces is not fundamentally different from the Hyperion version, though. Her slow readings still tend to be slow, but in some of them there’s less drag. For example the B minor fugue’s muffled tread is cut down by a full minute, and the F sharp minor has plenty of angst but just touch a more momentum.

But in the second half drag is present in greater quantities. The F sharp major prelude is surprisingly staid and sets up a fugue where time stops more than I think it should, even if it’s a little faster than on Hyperion. The B flat minor fugue is a fraction slower than on Hyperion (in both recordings she basically takes 2 minutes longer than anyone else I’ve heard) and the fluttering figures and runs are instead individual notes. The F minor prelude is laboured (though the fugue is very rapid... perhaps too much so) and the C minor fugue ends up being a bit tedious again. The G minor prelude and fugue is slightly faster than on Hyperion, but after listening to other performances there's a distinct lack of flow.

So, worth listening to because of its historical importance. But I don't think I'd really recommend it. It ends up falling down in the 2nd half in much the same places as the Hyperion version does, and in lower quality sound.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #186 on: July 30, 2021, 04:13:53 AM »


I’ve seen Kori Bond’s performance described as “romanticised”, and that’s definitely the direction it heads if you equate that word with a kind of constant soft focus. It works in some of the music, but the limitations also become apparent quite quickly. A somewhat dreamy C major prelude and fugue is not unusual. An A minor prelude that is a hazy wash of sounds rather than the precise rapid semiquavers of some pianists... okay that can kind of work.

But then the A minor fugue has no real spikiness, and it’s with the G major piece that it becomes really clear that there’s going to be a problem with forceful music. The G major prelude seems way too polite for pesante, especially when the tempo breaks down in some moments. And the fugue doesn’t erupt exuberantly upwards the way many performances do, nor is there any exuberance to the E major or B major fugues. She sounds positively scared of the B minor prelude’s melodrama, and the G sharp minor fugue is simply pedestrian.

So maybe she can plumb the emotional depths of a piece like the E minor, or the F sharp minor fugue? Well... no. It’s all rather “nice”. And that’s a bit of a problem. Some of the preludes and fugues can work with “nice”, but not all that many, and even with some of those the dreamy soft focus is a negative. The A major is okay with this treatment, and the sad lyricism of the C sharp minor fugue works pretty well, but the D major doesn’t sound remotely bright and sunny.
 
There’s no acid here, no fire. It’s Shostakovich made for rounded corners and slightly padded walls, and I don’t think many people really want him that way.
-----
That dashed line is there for a reason. Bond’s cycle was recorded in 2 separate parts, one in September 2004 and one in June 2006.

I can’t help wondering whether she recorded Book 1 (numbers 1-12) and Book 2 (numbers 13-24) entirely separately in those different sessions. Because once I crossed into Book 2 there seemed far less of a soft focus. Indeed, the F sharp major fugue is actually a bit harder-edged than many pianists. The E flat minor prelude and fugue has a decent amount of intensity and drive. The final D minor has direction.

It’s not a total transformation; the D flat doesn’t have the energy of the best versions, and the A flat is meek in tone rather than sparkling. There’s nothing that I’d strongly recommend. But there did seem to be a lot more of the second half that met my general expectations for the music.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #187 on: September 05, 2021, 11:45:49 PM »
Currently listening to Petrushansky. I may be some time...



Because frequently it's just bloody tedious. I'm not sure whether I even want to say more than that. Probably yes, I will, but this won't be a recommended reading. Even if there's a transformation like Bond's in the 2nd half, it won't make up for the boredom he's already put me through.

Currently 5 stars on Amazon, from 5 ratings... I need to buy something on Amazon just so I requalify for review writing.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #188 on: September 06, 2021, 03:28:53 AM »
Okay, so I'm back to say a bit more about Petrushansky.

It's not all bad. Take the D flat prelude and fugue, for instance, which has a fair amount of fire. But that demonstration that Petrushansky can play one of the most technically demanding pieces in the set at an appropriate tempo just makes me wonder even more why so many of the other pieces are so damn slow. It can only be because he has made a 'musical' decision that he wants them that way.

Maybe some of the slow pieces would work by way of contrast, but there are just so many of them. Time and again he's the slowest recording I've heard, and many of those performances have no impact. Over time, any notion that they're contemplative gets replaced by the feeling that they're just boring. Sometimes there's colour and shaping, yes, but not often enough. Far too many preludes, in particular, have the same kind of withdrawn quality, and a few of them are frankly tortuous.

So there were long stretches of this where I was either grinding my teeth or just not feeling anything. Then all of a sudden there's be something which would work. The fact that Petrushansky can play the way he does in the B major, D flat major or B flat major only makes it all the more disappointing that the vast majority of the time, he chooses not to.

There are also a few places where the rhythm seems unsteady, the G sharp minor prelude being the glaring example.
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #189 on: September 10, 2021, 03:21:23 AM »
It seems as though Levit is going to be a good antidote.  He's taking these quicker than I was expecting, turning the shorter pieces into miniatures.

Offline milk

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #190 on: September 10, 2021, 03:58:28 AM »
It seems as though Levit is going to be a good antidote.  He's taking these quicker than I was expecting, turning the shorter pieces into miniatures.
I'm listening to this right now. I have nothing to add but I am curious what people think. Like, what stands out?

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #191 on: September 10, 2021, 04:35:14 AM »
Just looking at timings suggests that few of Levit's interpretations will be extreme, but of course that's just the clock talking.

I've slotted him into the list. Only 6 more performances to listen to...
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #192 on: September 10, 2021, 09:17:16 PM »
Craig Sheppard's recording is compiled from 2 live concerts. So that's different to usual for a start.



There is a lot to like here. Sheppard has a really fine singing tone, a lot of clear voicing (in preludes just as much as fugues), and a lot of capacity for tonal colour and shaping.  He's not averse to the occasional 'Romantic' touch, but in ways that make a lot of musical sense.

So all of that is very positive indeed. Against that, though, is a little bit of a lack of contrast. Mostly I think this comes down to choice of tempo. Most of the slower pieces are played moderately fast, and most of the faster pieces are played moderately slow. You couldn't point to any one piece and say that the tempo is inappropriate as such, especially not when Sheppard does such a nice job with things like dynamics and articulation, but the overall effect is a kind of blending together that becomes a bit less interesting over time. The B flat minor fugue is played rather fast (and to be honest a touch too aggressively), so when the A flat major prelude begins there's almost no sense of a change of character.  And there are a few of the more vigorous fugues where I really did find myself wishing for just a touch more vigour.

The F sharp minor prelude and fugue is a perfect illustration of what you can get out of Sheppard's approach. The prelude is at a moderate tempo, and absolutely full of colour and character. The fugue is fairly fast, a little too fast for my personal taste, but you're unlikely to hear the suspensions in the fugue subject shaped better than this.

But really, you could pick most of the preludes and fugues and hear much the same qualities. Singing lines and moderate tempi. Again and again.

Overall... worth hearing? Definitely. A top choice? No, not quite. A sample is likely to sound really good, but listen to a dozen p&fs in succession and in my opinion the whole doesn't quite add up to the best versions.
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #193 on: September 10, 2021, 11:58:48 PM »
Interesting thanks.  I'd overlooked him, must backtrack and listen.

I'm listening to this [Levit] right now. I have nothing to add but I am curious what people think. Like, what stands out?

It was your post in WAYL2N that alerted me, and I scurried off to Spotify.  Have listened to 1-12 so far, will not get around to 13-16 until tomorrow, and the final eight only if I'm still enjoying the rest.
 
What stands out - well I have to say mostly it's the piano sound which to my ears is verging on the clangorous.  ???  Sort of, the sonic equivalent to the cover image (below).  :o :o  I'm kinda dreading getting to the Stevenson Passacaglia if the sound is going to be the same for that.  Possibly it's an incompatibility with my speakers which sometimes are not as laid-back as I could wish, and a forward, bright piano recording is just the sort of thing that sets them off.  A lot of sustain gives the right-hand notes a tinkling bell-like quality. 
[edit - I now have the booklet and note that the Passacaglia was recorded in a different location - hopefuly a bit less lively and ringy.  Incidentally the P&F was a Covid recording - May 2020 - in the famous (for recording) Jesus-Christus-Kirche.]

Apart from that, first impressions of the performance are that it's fairly neutral (think: Weichert) but with very pointed articulation (think: Lin).  The shorter faster pieces are taken very quickly - actually quite attractive - the slow fugues about par for the course, meaning not quite as slow as I would wish.  But I greatly prefer the piano sound in those two recordings (and most others) compared with Levit.
[edit - Levit absolutely excels in No.12 (both Prelude and Fugue) and even more so in No.15 where both are right up his alley.  Conversely, Prelude 14 is a failure - where's the thunder?? ]


Shostakovich: Preludes & Fugues - Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH - Igor Levit
« Last Edit: September 11, 2021, 01:25:35 AM by aukhawk »

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #194 on: September 11, 2021, 03:37:41 AM »
I decided I needed to listen to at least parts of Melnikov and Lin again, to see if I still like them after all this comparison work.

It’s nighttime so that seems more like a Melnikov thing...

Edit: Okay, I’d forgotten just how spectacular Melnikov’s G major fugue is. It goes off like a rocket!
« Last Edit: September 11, 2021, 03:47:58 AM by Madiel »
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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #195 on: September 11, 2021, 06:36:17 AM »
Interesting thanks.  I'd overlooked him, must backtrack and listen.

It was your post in WAYL2N that alerted me, and I scurried off to Spotify.  Have listened to 1-12 so far, will not get around to 13-16 until tomorrow, and the final eight only if I'm still enjoying the rest.
 
What stands out - well I have to say mostly it's the piano sound which to my ears is verging on the clangorous.  ???  Sort of, the sonic equivalent to the cover image (below).  :o :o  I'm kinda dreading getting to the Stevenson Passacaglia if the sound is going to be the same for that.  Possibly it's an incompatibility with my speakers which sometimes are not as laid-back as I could wish, and a forward, bright piano recording is just the sort of thing that sets them off.  A lot of sustain gives the right-hand notes a tinkling bell-like quality. 
[edit - I now have the booklet and note that the Passacaglia was recorded in a different location - hopefuly a bit less lively and ringy.  Incidentally the P&F was a Covid recording - May 2020 - in the famous (for recording) Jesus-Christus-Kirche.]

Apart from that, first impressions of the performance are that it's fairly neutral (think: Weichert) but with very pointed articulation (think: Lin).  The shorter faster pieces are taken very quickly - actually quite attractive - the slow fugues about par for the course, meaning not quite as slow as I would wish.  But I greatly prefer the piano sound in those two recordings (and most others) compared with Levit.
[edit - Levit absolutely excels in No.12 (both Prelude and Fugue) and even more so in No.15 where both are right up his alley.  Conversely, Prelude 14 is a failure - where's the thunder?? ]


Shostakovich: Preludes & Fugues - Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH - Igor Levit
Based on brief sampling, the whole Levit release sounds absolutely beautifully recorded to me, with full sound and indeed a fair bit of room echo from the church. It also seems that there's less echo in the Stevenson recorded in Hannover Congress Centrum's Leibniz Saal, which would indeed probably be beneficial for the work.
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #196 on: September 11, 2021, 07:27:33 AM »
I really like the recording quality on the Levit Op. 87 as well, I appreciate that it is on the dry side; as much as I like Melnikov's performances I only listen to it in small amounts due to the reverberance.

I've had to stop at number 8, if the rest are this good I suspect I'll buy the CD set. I really wish Levit wrote liner notes for this.

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #197 on: September 11, 2021, 11:17:23 PM »
Still not listening to Levit yet... today's recording was Colin Stone.



There are various indications that this is close to being a self-published effort. And you know what? It's good!

Maybe it's not quite at the very top of the tree. If I have a criticism it's that some of the preludes seem to be handled a bit too casually, with a few of them also being taken quite fast. But I found myself feeling this detraction less and less often as the sequence progressed. I'm not sure how much of that is me adjusting, and how much of that is Stone taking the longer and deeper preludes with the seriousness they deserve. I admit to positively rejoicing when the G sharp minor prelude started well.

And the fugues? Admittedly they don't get off to a great start because Stone follows Jarrett into the trap of believing the misprinted metronome in the C major. But missteps after that were very rare indeed. The fugues pretty consistently have character and power. And again they seem to tend to get better as you go. The first half of the E minor double fugue is a bit meh before picking up with the 2nd subject, whereas the whole of the final D minor double fugue is pretty riveting.

So I guess in the first half there were times where I was feeling like this had the potential to be labelled as "good, but a bit inconsistent". But there weren't that many misses, and none of them were really terrible misses anyway, and in the second half, well there were hardly any misses at all. My engagement level stayed high.

And every performance has at least some misses in my opinion. I've listened to 15 different version so far (only 4 more to go...), and as things currently stand? I think I can find room for Colin Stone in my top 5. Admittedly that's in 5th place** but for a performance that comes from an absolutely tiny 'record company' (less than 10 albums, either Colin Stone solo records or chamber music that... seems to usually involve Colin Stone), that's pretty damn impressive.


**I really wasn't intending to create a definite numbered ranking of everything, more clusters, this is really just me expressing that I think this might be fractionally behind the ones I've mentally marked as top choices.
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Offline The new erato

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #198 on: September 12, 2021, 12:31:29 AM »
Colin Bluntstone I know, but Colin Stone? :D

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #199 on: September 12, 2021, 03:03:36 AM »
I really like the recording quality on the Levit Op. 87 as well, I appreciate that it is on the dry side; as much as I like Melnikov's performances I only listen to it in small amounts due to the reverberance.
I've had to stop at number 8, if the rest are this good I suspect I'll buy the CD set. I really wish Levit wrote liner notes for this.

Presto has it as downloads at a low price (for 3 CDs-worth) which I couldn't resist even though I do have my reservations about the recording.  Fortunately I know and like the Stevenson 'filler'.
The pdf booklet is included but the notes are fairly superficial but do include a couple of generalised insights into the music that I haven't read anywhere else.  Apparently if you buy the vinyl you get "a limited edition printed insert of the 'cryptogram' that Shostakovich used as his musical signature"  ::)