CD Reviews 08

08_Revelation RV70001 /

Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich – Vol. 1
24 Preludes and Fugues, opus 87, Nos. 1-8, 12, 13 & 14.
Dmitri Shostakovich (piano).
Revelation RV70001. TT 61:15.

This exceptional release is one of the first fruits of a three-year legal battle over the distribution rights to the vast Medvedkovo recordings archive of the old Soviet state television and radio company, Gosteleradio (now Ostankino). The estimated 400,000 tapes accumulated over 70 years in this archive are being mined by Telstar Records for their new label, “The Classical Russia Revelation”.

Here the composer is pianist in 11 of the 17 opus 87 Preludes and Fugues that he recorded months before publication and Tatiana Nikolayeva’s public première of all 24 Preludes and Fugues. The CD’s booklet gives a recording date of 5 February 1952, as this was the only date originally supplied by the archive, but Revelation have since discovered that this applies only to Nos. 1-3 and 14; No. 5 was recorded on 6 December 1951, Nos. 4, 6 and 7 on 14 February 1952, and Nos. 8, 12 and 13 on 19 February 1952.

As in other recordings of Shostakovich playing his own works, the composer is not moderate in his choice of tempos, and he is unable to avoid the occasional slip-up (neither, apparently, are Revelation, who clip off the first note of Prelude and Fugue No. 3!). The sheer drama of his playing, however, easily obscures any technical failings. Indeed, his emphatic approach to the faster pieces (Prelude & Fugue No. 3 and the Fugue of No. 12, for example) creates the impression of a brisker pace than the timings disclose to be the case. More introspective passages, notably Prelude and Fugue Nos. 4 and 14, are given considerable time to unfold, generating a mood of hushed intensity. A dreamlike quality pervades Shostakovich’s playing of the lighter pieces; Prelude and Fugue No. 1 and the Prelude of No. 5 are particularly bittersweet. These nuances show opus 87 to contain deeper – and more deeply personal – emotion than other performers have revealed.

This disc’s sonic qualities far exceed expectations for a recording of this vintage. Full-bodied acoustics make it easy to forget that one is listening to a mono recording, and analog hiss is negligible. Perversely, for the latter we are indebted to noise-reduction technology reportedly developed by the Soviet Defence Ministry for the KGB to use in cleaning up its surveillance tapes!

A mandatory purchase, then. The remaining six opus 87 Preludes and Fugues that Shostakovich recorded were released in October on the third volume in Revelation’s Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich series; Vol. 2, also already available, contains four of the 24 Preludes arranged for violin and piano, along with a piano duet transcription of Symphony No. 10 and an excerpt from The Gadfly. Revelation has four other volumes in the series planned. Clearly, this will be a label to watch.

W. Mark Roberts