ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Dmitri Shostakovich - Preludes & Fugues

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DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - The Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87 - Alexander Melnikov (Piano) - 2CD - Harmonia Mundi 972019

Harmonia Mundi have just released (May 2010) a new recording of the enigmatic 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 composed in 1950 by Dmitri Shostakovich. This work is basically a 20th century version of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, encompassing all the possible keys and modes available in western music. It stands, along with its Baroque counterpart, as one of the pinnacles of keyboard literature. Of course, under Shostakovich's hands, these pieces are not merely theoretical problems to be resolved and driven by logic, they are also glimpses into the soul and mind of one of the great thinkers of the modern era. Although recognized and respected as first and foremost a great symphonist, this Opus is just as important a musical statement as any of his other works.

The Moscow born pianist Alexander Melnikov understands very well the inner workings of the intellect behind these pieces, and explains his own views on them in detail in the scholarly liner notes. His interpretation is first and foremost an intellectual one, with careful attention being given to the technical and musical raison d'Ítre of each prelude and fugue, but this doesn't mean that he completely foregoes sharing with us the emotional content imbedded in them. The way I see it, these pieces are technical and intellectual works, of that there is no doubt, but Shostakovich's nature can't help but penetrate to the core of every note within them. They range from simple to very complex, joyous to sad, sunny to dark, calm to stormy, lucid to insane, etc ...and Melnikov reacts to each one accordingly. Two great examples of Melnikov's emotional connection to these pieces, are his broodingly dark take on the Prelude No. 14 in E flat minor and his manic and demented delivery of the Fugue No. 15 in D flat major.

Like I've mentioned before at the end of other reviews of this profound work, this is music that lingers on the mind long after it's been heard, and leaves you with many unanswered questions as to its genesis and what internal forces drove Shostakovich to write it all down. I believe this new recording by Alexander Melnikov may answer some of those questions.

Jean-Yves Duperron