Dmitri Shostakovich is not an easy composer to pin down. Sometimes coy and ironic, at other moments terrifyingly, emotionally intense, his work has yielded some of the most starkly and contradictory ideological interpretations of any composer's music. He was a composer of surprising range, and as a result it seems possible to situate some of his music at nearly any point along certain spectra of affect.
Shostakovich's 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87, just reissued in a recent recording by Alexander Melkinov, present the composer at his most agreeable. Like a half of Bach's two-part Well-Tempered Clavier, Shostakovich's cycle presents one prelude and one fugue in each of the twelve major and twelve minor keys, and like Bach, Shostakovich uses this as an opportunity to explore a whole gamut of musical characters, from the ingenuous, all-white-key Fugue No. 1 in C Major to the hysterical chromaticism of Fugue No. 15 in D-flat Major. But the volume's neoclassical formal elegance finds Shostakovich returning again and again to Apollonian ideals of clarity and loveliness.
Still, the interpreters who have approached these pieces of "pure" music have taken away from them vastly different sentiments. Keith Jarrett's sweet, gentle rendition of this cycle slips from his fingers quick and smooth and cool as a cascade of little glass beads, while Tatiana Nikolayeva – the pianist whose masterful Bach inspired Shostakovich's cycle – managed to bring out both Shostakovich's ice and fire.
Melkinov, by contrast, is exceedingly warm. What was eerie in Nikolayeva's renditions is plangent here; where Jarrett skips gracefully across the surface, Melkinov plunges right in. This is a rich and inviting interpretation, offering us yet another Shostakovich – Shostakovich the Romantic – sensitive, generous, and heroically big-hearted. Listen to the entire album below.
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