Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
24 Preludes, Op. 34 Aphorisms, Op. 13 Piano Sonata No.1, Op. 12
Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5
When discussing the music of Dmitry Shostakovich, with itsfocussing on theatrical projects in his earlier years and symphonic worksthereafter, it is easy to forget the significance of his piano music as arepository for some of his most abstract and personal ideas. This is notsurprising, given that the composer was a prize-winner in the 1927 ChopinCompetition in Warsaw and appeared frequently, if often reluctantly, as anexponent of his own piano music and that of others, until restricted by illnessin the late 1950s. The present recording features Shostakovich's most importantpiano works, apart from the monumental cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues [Naxos8.554745-6] and the Second Piano Sonata, their often radical tendencies fittingin well with the heady years of artistic experimentation in the Soviet Union,before the cultural clampdown, with the imposition of the principles ofSocialist Realism.
Composed in the spring of 1922, the Fantastic Dances werepublished four years later, and for the greater part of the composer's liferemained the one piece from before his First Symphony in general circulation.Shostakovich himself gave the premi?¿re in Moscow on 20th March 1925, andperformed the pieces on numerous subsequent occasions. His affection is easy tounderstand as, though they show few of his later stylistic traits, theliveliness of his musical mind is fully in evidence. A mischievous-soundingAllegretto in C major is followed by the insouciant waltz of an Andantino in Gmajor, concluding with the lively polka of a further Allegretto in C major.
The radical tendencies in Shostakovich's music, held inrigorous check by the First Symphony [Naxos 8.550623], erupt uninhibitedly inthe First Piano Sonata, composed during September and October 1926. The workwas originally subtitled 'October', a description transferred to the SecondSymphony [Naxos 8.550624], but whose implied conflict is evident in thesonata's attempts to ground itself in the key of C major. This is apparent atthe opening, when, amid a maelstrom of atonal figuration, C major soundsbizarrely against the dissonance. Brusque descending scales focus activity inthe bass register, from where intricate contrapuntal passage-work effects areturn to the opening material. A Lento section brings the only prolonged calmin the whole work, though its sense of tonal and textural 'floating' does notmean corresponding repose. A running bass line duly leads to a final outburstof seething energy, whose hammered C sharps brutally undermine any attempt at aC major resolution.
Experimentalism of a different sort permeates the Aphorisms,ten recalcitrant miniatures written between 25th February and 7th April 1927.An absence of anything approaching classical poise may have been encouraged bythe radical composer and theorist Boleslav Yavorsky, who persuaded Shostakovichto discard the original title of Suite, and to whom the set was subsequentlydedicated. As one might expect from the composer at this irony-fuelledjuncture, the titles of the individual pieces are not to be taken at facevalue. Recitative proceeds aimlessly, curtailed by a harsh chord which returnsmore subtly to punctuate the course of the ensuing Serenade. Few titles wouldbe less appropriate to the capricious character and grating sonorities of thethird piece than Nocturne, which tails off in a succession of fragmentarysounds employing the pitches D, E flat, C and B, the D-S-C-H motto offundamental importance to Shostakovich's later music. The fourth piece, Elegy,is written in the 'white note' key of C major, with F sharps intruding at theclose to ruffle the gentle aura; a procedure which, together with mock-solemnfanfares of repeated notes, similarly robs the Funeral March of any gravitas.?ëtude draws on the familiar parody of a technical exercise, the abnormally slowmetronome mark ensuring a pedantic air throughout. Dance of Death makesallusions to the Dies irae chant and open-string pitches amid a welter ofactivity, while Canon dryly uses the framework of a three-part invention topoke fun at academic strictures. The surreal calm of Legend unfolds at acontinual ppp dynamic, before Lullaby rounds off the sequence in a haze oftranquil arabesques over inscrutable bass octaves, ending with a teasinglyunresolved chord.
By the time of the 24 Preludes, composed, in the orderpublished, during the winter of 1932-33, the aim to shock has been transmutedinto the desire to entertain. This is not to say that these pieces, whichfollow the same tonal order as Chopin's Op. 28 Preludes, from C major and Aminor through to F major and D minor, are conventional in essence; rather thesurprises come not from abrupt juxtaposition but from more subtle contrastsbetween preludes and across the sequence as a whole. So the harmonic piquancy ofI is followed by the gangling motion of II and the mainly gentle pathos of III.After the Bachian fluency of IV, the boisterous V cavorts up and down thekeyboard, while VI is a spiky study of typically Shostakovichian humour. Theplacid VII is complemented by the quixotic gait of VIII and hectic rhythmicmotion of IX, before X introduces a bittersweet harmonic touch. XI sounds anote of slapstick comedy, while the lyrical XII anticipates ideas in the FirstPiano Concerto [Naxos 8.553126]. XIII combines a robust theme with arepeated-note bass, in complete contrast with the glowering emotional intensityof XIV. XV lightens the mood with its effervescent high spirits, and XVI has aninsouciance more usually associated with Prokofiev, before XVII evinces a raptpoetry which accords well with Chopinesque precedent. XVIII is lively andplayful, XIX enchants with its easy-going barcarolle motion, and XX is allenergy and confrontation. XXI is a good-natured ramble, while the ruminativeemotion of XXII again evokes Chopin. The quicksilver intermezzo of XXIII leadseffectively into the clipped humour of XXIV, ending the cycle on a note ofappealing understatement.