American Record Guide
, July 2010
Shostakovich could easily have followed in the footsteps of the illustrious line of 20th Century Russian composer-pianists (Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Medtner, Prokofieff, plus a host of secondary talents). His pianistic skills by all accounts were world-class, yet his output of piano music is much less prominent in his output. This is not to say that its quality is anything less than superb—the Op. 87 set of 24 Preludes and Fugues remains one of the unquestioned masterpieces of piano literature. The Second Sonata has slowly crept into at least the periphery of regularly performed and recorded Russian piano sonatas. Written in 1942 during some of the darkest times of World War II, it is a very private and personal statement—quite the opposite of Shostakovich’s Symphony 7 from the same period. Ashkenazy’s recording is the best (Decca 1846, Sept/Oct 2004), and that should not be surprising, as he has conducted all 15 symphonies and performed most of the chamber music and a lot of the piano music.
Both examples here are good. Boyadjieva plays generally slower with less edge, but very musically; and McLachlan is closer to the Ashkenazy approach, but not quite at the same pianistic level, and the recorded piano sound does not match Decca’s. As a collection of Shostakovich piano music, Boyadjieva’s complete set of 24 Preludes in all keys, same order as Chopin’s, are just about a perfect companion to the sonata. Using the Three Fantastic Dances, Shostakovich’s Op. 5, to fill out the program gives us early, middle, and later music by the master. Her musicality and attention to melody might convince you that Shostakovich was clearly influenced by Rachmaninoff (I believe he was, whether he would admit it or not).
McLachlan’s program, titled Shostakovich and Comrades, is filled with music that just as clearly was influenced by Prokofieff. Shostakovich’s Sonata 1, written 16 years before 2, is a bombastic, extremely dissonant single movement work of considerable difficulty. McLachlan’s percussive touch and the less than warm piano sound seem apropos. Kabalevsky’s Sonata 3 is an enjoyable but rather tame work, sort of like Prokofieff required to produce music that would appeal to the masses.
Miaskovsky is not well represented on records, but his Song and Rhapsody is the most beautiful work here. Stevenson might seem a little out of place here, but his lyrical Recitative and Air on DSCH from 1974 is a welcome set of variations on the motive based on Shostakovich’s name. He composed a large Passacaglia on the same motive in 1960-62, also recorded by McLachlan (Divine Art 25013, May/June 2006). Shostakovich used it often: Piano Sonata 2, Quartet 8, Symphonies 10 & 15. McLachlan finishes his program with a blockbuster rendition of Shchedrin’s 1999 virtuoso transcription of his 1963 orchestral work, Tschastuschki. This is a true find if you want to explore lesser-known Russian piano music from the 20th Century.