, May 2007
This is yet another fine Shostakovich disc from Konstantin Scherbakov. With the exception of the second sonata, the pieces collected on this disc are bagatelles and other chips from the master's workbench. For Shostakovich's more significant piano music, you should look first and foremost to his cycle of 24 preludes and fugues - alsorecorded brilliantly by Scherbakov on Naxos 8.554745-46 (see review). Nonetheless, admirers of Shostakovich should not be put off by the lightness of the fare as each piece, however small, bears its author's fingerprints.
Though the second sonata was written during the Great Patriotic War, it has little in common with the Seventh Symphony or the composer's other more public statements at this time. If you come to this piece expecting grand statements of tragedy, you are looking in the wrong place.
This is introspective music and Scherbakov wisely does not attempt to find profound proclamations in this piece. He plays the notes on the page and lets them do the talking. His first movement has a breezy, bustling feel to it. The second movement is elusive, and Scherbakov's touch is so light that you would think he is playing Debussy. The finale starts with a spare, unharmonised melodic line picked out by the right hand. Only after a full minute does the left hand join in to create an enigmatic passacaglia, and Scherbakov's strongly characterised treatment of each variation shows a great independence of hands.
After these ruminative sounds comes something lighter and brighter. The Three Pieces are “big C” Classical in mood and proportion. The pieces from A Child's Exercise Book – written for the composer's daughter – are simple in construction, but there is no condescension in the writing. The third of these pieces, Sad Tale,is completely tonally ambiguous and so is the Merry Tale which follows it. This is trademark Shostakovich. The Clockwork Doll is genuinely quirky, and my favourite piece of the set. The final piece, Birthday, begins with a fanfare reminiscent of the one which opens Shostakovich's Festive Overture.
The Five Preludes date from Shostakovich's student days and were a contribution to a composite set of 24 preludes he wrote with his fellow students Pavel Feldt and Georgi Klements. These pieces are really quite wonderful. The second in particular is so simple in its construction, and so hushed that it sounds almost like a love scene, and Sherbakov's gentle touch here is magical.
The disc closes with Shostakovich's piano reduction of his socialist realist ballet, The Limpid Stream. Though not in his usual spiky, satirical idiom, this is still attractive music. The first dance starts like a musical snuffbox, the second is jaunty – The Dance of the Milkmaid and the Tractor Driver. Perhaps there is some satire here after all. The third dance, a waltz like the first, sounds like it comes from a Fred Astaire movie. Scherbakov takes great care to shade this pretty, tuneful music. Though much of the material in this ballet suite sounds an awful lot like salon music, a great pianist can generate enormous colour and interest in salon music and Scherbakov is definitely in that class.
The recorded sound is fine, producing a bright piano sound which does not hurt these pieces at all. Richard Whitehouse is the author of the helpful liner notes.
Recommended to fans of Shostakovich and lovers of light piano fare.