Gramophone

Raymond Clarke folows his insightful accounts of the Shostakovich Sonatas and the Preludes, op.34 (10/99) with a disc featuring three sets of the composer’s early piano pieces. The op.2 Preludes were originally eight in number, but the surviving five numbers make a well-contrasted sequence – less characterful that the well-known Fantastic Dances, but anticipating more the elegant linearity of the op. 34 Preludes.

Clarke plays with assurance, and provides the first fully recommendable account of the Aphorisms : a key work of Shostakovich’s brief but eventful Modernist phase, these 10 “non-tonal” miniatures cohere at a gestural and, almost in spite of themselves, motivic level. And the degree to which an overall emotional focus manifests itself as the sequence proceeds, as Clarke himself points out iin his informative booklet note, looks forward to the suite-like construction of works from much later in Shostakovich’s career.

Certainly the tonal progression of Andrzej Panufnik’s Twelve Miniature Studies, a minor-key traversal through the cycle of fifths, is relatively unambiguous – aided by the contrast between the brusque, athletic odd-numbered studies and (the final piece excepted) the slow, ruminative even-numbered ones. Each of these two concurrent sequences, moreover, embodies the musical motion whose intergration gives the composer’s mature output its coherence; as is demonstrated in the other two works in this programme, which both opt for an extended span of five continuous sections.

In Reflections, continuity is at a premium in what is an audacious and potent juxtaposition of dynamics and texture, meaningfully unresolved at the close. Pentasonata refashions the ‘sonata’ format with palindromic consistency, though the developmental section perhaps lacks the momentum necessary to steer the music back from the still focal point of its centre.

Committed and perceptive playing from Clarke, who for more than a decade now has been among the most stimulating and wide-ranging pianists of his generation, and a recorded balance which does justice to the crisp, clear outlines of the music. More discs from this source are keenly awaited.

—Richard Whitehouse