There are more tangible connections between Shostakovich and Panufnik than one might imagine, not least the fact that that for part of their lives, both composers struggled to preserve some kind of creative integrity in the light of Stalinist repression. The three Shostakovich pieces demonstrate the considerable stylistic distance the composer travelled during the turbulent Twenties, from the Preludes, written when he was barely a teenager, to the radical and ironic Aphorisms , of 1927, which offer a tantalising glimpse of Shostakovich’s possible development had the cultural environment remained more tolerant.
Panufnik’s piano music is the more austere. Although the 12 Miniature Studies present a welcome juxtaposition between moods of aggression and introspection, there is a certain schematic approach to the musical material that lessens the degree of overall contrast. This feature is even more apparent in the Reflections , which is the least approachable work on the disc. But the Pentasonata is an impressive achievement, illustrating an imaginative exploitation of surprisingly simple ideas.
Pianist Raymond Clarke has long been associated with both of these composers, and gave the first London performance of Pentasonata in 1989. He is particularly good at creating a sense of atmosphere in the delicate passages of these works. The recording, made at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is warm and ambient, but an out-of-tune octave at the end of the first Panufnik study proves a little disconcerting.
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