Fanfare

Originally recorded and released on Dunelm in 2006, this centennial tribute to Shostakovich offers an illuminating context for his two piano sonatas, setting them against the piano music of two older composers who matured under Stalin as well as against the music of two younger composers (only one of whom is Russian) who followed in his wake. Granted, I’m not really taken with Shchedrin’s 1999 reduction of his 1963 Naughty Limericks , a flamboyantly colored orchestral show-piece that loses much of its slapstick sarcasm in this black-and-white rendition; nor does the choice of Kabalevsky’s most oft-recorded piano work contribute as much as a more offbeat selection (even the Second Sonata) might have done. Still, the recital makes coherent sense as a whole.

Murray McLachlan plays with tremendous enthusiasm and conviction, and heard on its own, the disc offers considerable pleasures. Certainly, he has the background for the repertoire. He has recorded, for instance, the bulk of Myaskovsky’s piano music – and his experience is evident in his sympathetic return to the Song and Rhapsody , which expertly captures Myaskovsky’s characteristically nostalgic striving. Then, too, his long-term familiarity with Stevenson’s music (he’s one of the rare pianists to have tackled Stevenson’s massive Passacaglia on DSCH ; see Paul Rapoport’s discussion in Fanfare 27:5)pays high dividends in his pensive reading of the Recitative and Air, originally commissioned to celebrate Shostakovich’s 70 th birthday but, in the event, serving as a memorial instead. The other performances, too, are marked by intelligence and solid (if not transcendental) technique.

That said, his slightly dense reading of the Kabalevsky (which he’s also recorded before) is no serious competition for Horowitz’s or Moiseiwitsch’s: His slightly monochromatic playing tends to reduce the musical conversations to a monologue, and his color rarely changes to mirror the changes in harmonic landscape; nor does he have the kind of manic grip necessary to make the finale seem anything but much-diluted Prokofiev. Nor, despite his relentless fury, is Mclachlan’s reading of the Shostakovich First as sympathetic to the sonata’s off –kilter character as Lilya Zilberstein’s. Then, too, for all the eloquence of its ending (the effect of which is shattered by his decision to follow it with the Shchedrin), his generally out going performance of the Shostakovich Second doesn’t displace Emil Gilels’s classic reading. As for the production: The recording is rather opaque, the instrument is not in tip-top shape, and the choice of the word “Comrades” for the subtitle is misleading in multiple ways (simultaneously suggesting Shostakovich’s commitment to the Soviet culture and his closeness to Kabalevsky), but McLachlan’s lengthy notes are generally informative.

In sum. Those willing to pick and choose can get superior performances of most of this music elsewhere – but those who opt for this release will be amply rewarded. Cautiously recommended.

—Peter J. Rabinowitz