Author Topic: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues  (Read 35011 times)

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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #80 on: March 16, 2020, 03:24:46 AM »
*bump*

So I discovered we had a thread dedicated to recordings of this amazing work.

So amazing, that (contrary to my normal habits) I now deliberately have 3 recordings of it. 2 recently acquired.



They all have strengths and weaknesses I think... I have an inclination to compare them piece by piece and thought this thread might be a good place to do it, if no-one objects.

I should make one note about the Melnikov recording. It's original format has been mentioned here and was incredibly awkward, with 3 discs and the 3rd one being a DVD but with P&F 24 in D minor also on that disc in audio.  It was subsequently reissued in a plain old 2-CD set, with all the pieces accommodated that way. Far more sensible, and Lord knows why they didn't have that format in the first place even with the DVD as a bonus.
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Offline Brian

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #81 on: March 16, 2020, 05:23:53 AM »
Please do feel free to post your comparisons and thoughts! I think that this work has so far attracted performers of such high caliber that comparison will only yield more insight into the music, rather than becoming a game of "who is better than who". Which is really a great thing (I wish "who is better" didn't predominate quite so much on here...perhaps why I love the blind listening games).

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #82 on: March 16, 2020, 05:53:32 AM »
Please do feel free to post your comparisons and thoughts! I think that this work has so far attracted performers of such high caliber that comparison will only yield more insight into the music, rather than becoming a game of "who is better than who". Which is really a great thing (I wish "who is better" didn't predominate quite so much on here...perhaps why I love the blind listening games).

+1
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #83 on: March 16, 2020, 12:38:30 PM »
Please do feel free to post your comparisons and thoughts! I think that this work has so far attracted performers of such high caliber that comparison will only yield more insight into the music, rather than becoming a game of "who is better than who". Which is really a great thing (I wish "who is better" didn't predominate quite so much on here...perhaps why I love the blind listening games).

Agree completely. This is similar to other great music e.g. Art of Fugue. The more great recordings the better.
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #84 on: March 16, 2020, 01:00:31 PM »
I'll copy what I wrote in Dmitri's Dacha on Boris Petrushansky. Since this post I've listened to Op. 87 a few times, overall extremely fine performances. Thought I would mention his recording since I don't think I've seen him brought up often with Op. 87.

In Op. 87 I managed to listen to up the 4th Fugue from Boris Petrushansky, he is damn good. In Prelude No. 3 I was quite impressed by the very clear articulation between the powerful/dynamic playing of the left hand and concise, gentle playing of the right. And Prelude No. 4 had loads of the imminent pathos. There is a certain effortlessness to his playing that makes me want to keep listening.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #85 on: March 16, 2020, 03:34:12 PM »
I plan on grouping a few pieces together in my notes rather than giving you 24 separate ones, so there might be a bit of time in between each entry.

I did listen to C major over breakfast, but some of them will be harder going than that one!
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #86 on: March 17, 2020, 04:21:07 AM »
Right, here goes. I think 4 pieces is about the right length of post...

C major – in the plainest and purest of pieces, Lin gives the plainest presentation, perhaps just a little colourless though it’s not bad. Melnikov, by contrast, gives the prelude a romantic sense of hanging in the air, full of meaningful pauses. The problem is he lets the hazy feel continue into the fugue and it feels too slow for a Moderato. Nikolayeva is the fastest in both halves (something I will rarely say in these assessments), with room for a few pauses in the prelude but also a little bit of momentum.  Score one for Nikolayeva.

A minor – The classic semiquaver prelude and short fugue don’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. Nevertheless, Lin manages to shave a few seconds off the prelude and turn the semiquavers into a fascinating rush. I’m not sure whether I prefer it or not, but it’s different to the other 2 and it kinda works. She also has both the recording engineers and the fingerwork to create a fugue of superb clarity. Whereas Nikolayeva is maybe a fraction messy in a couple of spots.

G major – There’s not a huge amount to choose between the 3 performances, all seem to work though I might fractionally prefer Lin’s. She manages to give the prelude a march-like, slightly sardonic character, making it sound like an example of the forced rejoicing Shostakovich sometimes created. The other 2 preludes are more straightforward Russian hammering. Melnikov’s fugue is incredibly fast, and it’s kind of exhilarating. But it’s not as if the others are slow.

E minor – Well I have opinions about this one as I’ve played it for exams... tempos are a real issue here, with Andante for the prelude being hard to judge and the double fugue requiring a gear change (Adagio followed by piu mosso). In the prelude, Nikolayeva is arguably a bit slow, though I prefer that to Lin who doesn’t give the piece enough weight. Lin’s fugue also starts too fast and lightly (I’m sure it’s 4/4, not 2/2 like the C major) and so she doesn’t really have as much room to move when it’s time to accelerate. It’s Melnikov that convinces me the most. His prelude hits a sweet spot, and while the opening of his fugue arguably isn’t a true Adagio his tempo relationships work, with an appreciable gear change and intensification.
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #87 on: March 17, 2020, 06:37:00 AM »
Most interesting, thanks!
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Offline Iota

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #88 on: March 17, 2020, 07:09:19 AM »
Interesting reading, Madiel! I look forward to further instalments.

I agree Melnikov is excellent in the E minor p&f. The fugue builds to a magnificent climax, though who knows if he had started with a more marked Adagio it may have been even greater.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #89 on: March 18, 2020, 03:40:43 AM »
.

Comparison part 2.

D major – It feels as if Melnikov is trying to give one of the sunniest pieces an edge that it doesn’t need. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Nikolayeva’s performance... but then Lin’s fractionally more relaxed take is utterly gorgeous, one of her very best.

B minor – Major tempo questions here. How fast should the dramatic Allegretto prelude be? What about the relentless muffled tread of the fugue marked Moderato? Nikolayeva is the one I’m used to, but objectively she’s too slow for either of those markings. The first bars of the fugue are at pace, but she slows right down the moment she hits the countersubject that dominates. Even if she’s able to bring lots of gravity, it’s not clear it’s the feel Shostakovich wanted. The other 2 performers create preludes where you feel a bar as the main unit instead of a crochet, and fugues where the main unit is a crotchet instead of a quaver. But Lin presses the music a little too much for my taste, and I find myself preferring Melnikov. His fugue has a beautiful flow to it.

A major – The carillon-like fugue is marked to be always legato, and positively begs for generous use of pedal. Lin decides for some reason to make it slightly detached and more like a trumpet fanfare. This would sound fine if (a) you’ve never heard another version and (b) you’ve never seen that the score SAYS legato sempre. But I’ve done both those things and so she loses points.

F sharp minor – Lin’s prelude is notable for being a real (and very successful) scherzo, whereas the others are a bit more like a ticking clock. The big difference is in the fugue; just how painful should that sighing be? Lin takes 5:32 (with no sense of pain at all, just determination) and Melnikov takes 8:23 (I’m afraid the patient isn’t going to make it). But it’s Nikolayeva that seems to find the right balance. Perhaps at 7:21 it’s a trifle slow to be a true Andante, but she gives the music both flow and room to breathe.



EDIT: More on the B minor and F sharp minor fugues... in Nikolayeva's hands they always felt very much like a similar pair. And arguably in Lin's hands you'd get the same impression, with both of them much faster. It's only when you look across all these performances that you think hang on, Shostakovich gave these 2 fugues different tempo markings so maybe they shouldn't sound quite so similar to each other. The B minor needs to press forward a bit and the F sharp minor needs to hang back.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2020, 03:46:12 AM by Madiel »
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #90 on: March 19, 2020, 03:38:20 AM »
E major – Apart from Lin’s faster prelude giving a slightly different feel, there really isn’t much difference in approach between the 3 performances. They’re all perfectly fine.

C sharp minor – In the prelude, Lin’s clearer semiquavers contrast with Melnikov’s more impressionistic haze. But both approaches work, and similarly in the fugue no-one chooses an unreasonable speed or does anything that feels inappropriate.  Perhaps Nikolayeva has the best of both worlds, matching Lin’s tempo with more shaping like Melnikov, but the margin is small.

B major – Nikolayeva sounds okay on her own, but in comparison you realise she’s a little slow and the fugue gets laboured. Melnikov plays with the tempo a lot in the prelude (at least some speed changes are in the score), and while it’s interesting I think ultimately Lin’s steadier pulse and crisp articulation suit the music better, and she does just as well in the matching fugue.

G sharp minor – Nikolayeva is good. She gives the prelude a lot of gravity and then attacks the difficult first half of the fugue with relentless force. Melnikov is perhaps even better. His prelude has intensity, and the fractionally more measured start of the fugue gives him room to gradually ramp up the pressure, before the climax and collapse has a distinct shape. Against this competition, Lin’s prelude is decent... but her fugue sounds mechanical rather than passionate. The climax scarcely registers.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #91 on: March 21, 2020, 10:27:38 PM »
Part 4. A couple of these ones got lengthy, like the only two Adagio fugues in the work...

F sharp major - The times in the long fugue vary wildly: Lin takes 3:56, Melnikov 4:44 and Nikolayeva 7:34. Lin very much gives a feel of one beat per bar rather than two. Nikolayeva is arguably closer to the right speed for Adagio, but on the slower end of that range and she adds further hesitations. While this piece seems to sound nice no matter what’s done to it, the result is extremely static. Not for the first time, I’m unsure whether Melnikov delivers a true Adagio, but he’s probably closest to giving the fugue a combination of coherent musical sense and feeling. He also probably has the edge in the prelude which he gives a particularly lovely shape.

E flat minor – There isn’t much difference in approach here. All 3 pianists take the fugue with a swinging 1-in-a-bar feel which is plausible. Perhaps Melnikov and Lin generate a little more drama in the prelude than Nikolayeva does with her more distant recording.

D flat major – Nikolayeva arguably ends up being the best overall bet. In the prelude her heavy-footed waltz has plenty of character, and she gives the fugue a suitably wild feel. The outer sections of Melnikov’s prelude are too driven, not suitable for Allegretto and not distinct from the character of the fugue, though the central section is wonderfully delicate. He clears the technical difficulties of the fugue easily. As for Lin, well she’s able to give the waltz in the prelude a nice spring and a dash of Shostakovich's sarcasm, but then the fugue is a major disappointment. It sounds so safe and pedestrian.

B flat minor – How fast should the extraordinarily strange fugue go? When you look at the score it’s hard to argue that Lin, the fastest performer, is going too fast.  The problem with her fugue is that, even at this pace, the music gets a bit uninteresting. Is Nikolayeva, who takes an extra 3 minutes, going too slow? I’m not sure. The lack of overall momentum as notes trickle down makes some sense in this music, but again, it’s eventually hard to sustain interest in the effect. I don’t know how much of this is Shostakovich’s ‘fault’.

Melnikov then? His basic pulse for the fugue isn’t all that different from Lin, but he arguably shapes the music with the extra character that it really needs. The problem with Melnikov is that he seems to be in too much of a hurry in the prelude (which the other 2 pianists perform pretty well). The acceleration of notes is less effective when the initial theme doesn’t have that much room to breathe. So I end up with no-one convincing me that they’ve nailed the piece. I’m tempted to pair Lin’s prelude with Melnikov’s fugue and see how that goes.
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #92 on: March 22, 2020, 04:45:12 AM »
Very much enjoying your survey.
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Offline Kaga2

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #93 on: March 22, 2020, 07:24:49 AM »
I love these. I think I have five sets. I first heard some of them decades ago when only a partial recording by Richter could be had. Now I cannot keep up! Which is a good thing.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #94 on: March 22, 2020, 07:25:43 AM »
I love these. I think I have five sets. I first heard some of them decades ago when only a partial recording by Richter could be had. Now I cannot keep up! Which is a good thing.

Aye: great problem to have!
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #95 on: March 22, 2020, 01:05:16 PM »
I love these. I think I have five sets. I first heard some of them decades ago when only a partial recording by Richter could be had. Now I cannot keep up! Which is a good thing.

Great performances from Richter, how nice would it have been if Richter recorded all of them :( I think Shostakovich organized these brilliantly and it doesn't sound right to me playing a partial set. For me these aren't miniatures like some of Chopin, Scriabin, etc.

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #96 on: March 22, 2020, 01:13:08 PM »
Great performances from Richter, how nice would it have been if Richter recorded all of them :( I think Shostakovich organized these brilliantly and it doesn't sound right to me playing a partial set. For me these aren't miniatures like some of Chopin, Scriabin, etc.

I agree. Odd that they took so long to get established, with a name like Richter advocating for them.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #97 on: March 22, 2020, 02:01:28 PM »
Great performances from Richter, how nice would it have been if Richter recorded all of them :( I think Shostakovich organized these brilliantly and it doesn't sound right to me playing a partial set. For me these aren't miniatures like some of Chopin, Scriabin, etc.

I would fully agree that there's a deliberate design across the entire set. And Melnikov's own liner notes spend a considerable amount of time arguing why it's a complete cycle.

I tend to regard Chopin's op.28 as a single work as well.
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Offline The new erato

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #98 on: March 22, 2020, 02:23:54 PM »
Igor Levitt was scheduled to play them in Rosendal last august, but became ill at the last minute. I wonder if there is a recording in the pipeline?

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues
« Reply #99 on: March 22, 2020, 09:48:04 PM »
.

Nearly there, only one more part to go after this...

A flat major – All 3 pianists have slightly different takes on the lyricism of the prelude and the dance of the fugue (though Lin and Nikolayeva in particular are quite similar in tempo), and all of them work pretty well. My instinct is to slightly prefer the marginally more robust approach by Nikolayeva, though I don’t know if that’s just familiarity. None of them will disappoint in my view.

F minor – Again, there’s a little bit of variety in approach, but not too much. Everything works reasonably well, except that Nikolayeva’s prelude is probably a bit too slow for Moderato.

E flat major – Nikolayeva’s prelude is distinctly slower than the others and (while the others are okay) I would say she makes more sense of the character of the music. She makes the first idea a chorale and the second a sinister waltz, which seems appropriately Allegretto. I also like her fugue. Lin’s fugue is impressive and definitely worth hearing. Melnikov makes the fugue sound a bit staid, with a very marked 5 beats a bar rather than letting the tritones flow in and out of the music.

C minor – The prelude and fugue both start with the same material, but the prelude is marked Adagio and the fugue Moderato. It’s probably preferable to make the prelude a bit fast, as Lin does, than to make the fugue a bit slow as Nikolayeva does. Melnikov trumps them both by giving by far the clearest sense of the atmosphere of each half, having marginally both the slowest prelude and the fastest fugue without either feeling exaggerated.
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