Author Topic: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues  (Read 29339 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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Online 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!

Offline DavidW

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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:

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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 *)
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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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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