These preludes are not drawn from the set of 24, op.34, that Shostakovich wrote in 1933. Rather, these five were part of a collaborative effort with two other students, when Shostakovich was thirteen years old. Three Fantastic Dances , which are often used as student pieces, were penned two years later. It is remarkable to hear distinct elements of the Shostakovich sound in this very early work, more so in the melodic and harmonic content than in the structure, which is mainly derivative. The experimental Aphorisms , completed in 1927, is a purposeful tweak to the conservative musical establishment, as attitude that was becoming increasingly dangerous for the young composer, as the Stalinist cultural atmosphere became ever more oppressive through the 1930s. It is hard to imagine, listening today, that these plucky, clever little nuggets, which are overtly theatrical and completely accessible, could have ruffled any feathers.
Andrzej Panufnik was a Polish composer who lived from 1914 to 1991. He wrote the Twelve Miniature Studies in 1947, shortly before he fled from Communist Poland, where he was subject to the same pressures as Shostakovich and his colleagues were in Russia. This is a very lively and ingenious work, covering all 12 minor keys in quick blasts between one and three minutes in duration. The dynamics vary greatly, from loud and fast to slow and very quiet, with much use of the una corda pedal. Reflections , from 1968, follows form the contemplative side of the studies, and is devoid of overt virtuosity for a 13-minute duration. This is music that may be better suited for individual contemplation rather than for public display. The Pentasonata was written in 1984. The title refers to the use of the pentatonic scale, the use of five beats to a measure, and that the work is in five sections. This is a spiky, episodic work, featuring the sort of alternating dynamics of the Twelve Miniature Studies , but in a much more abstract manner.
British pianist Raymond Clarke plays this music with great affection and understanding, even if there are splashy moments in some of the Panufnik that lack the last degree of sparkle and agility. He also contributes the superbly informative program notes.
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