International Piano

What a loss to music that Shostakovich didn’t provide a large solo repertoire for his own instrument: it’s not difficult to imagine him producing a twentieth-century equivalent of Beethoven’s sonata-cycle. As it is, the magnificent Op. 87 cycle of preludes and fugues apart, all we have is from his early years, where his voice is predominantly ironic, before the threat of real violence from the state helped trigger a deepening and broadening of his musical language. Two CDs show a contrasting approach to these works. Oleg Marshev fills out an exemplary disc (Danacord DACOCD 601) of the two piano concertos with the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, of 1932-33. Marshev is a Romantic player par excellence – his Rachmaninov concertos (Danacord DACOCD 582-583) went straight to the top of the pile – and he brings a nineteenth-century richness to the music which underlines its position in the Russian pianistic tradition. Raymond Clarke, by contrast, is an intellectual, an analyst, who has a more secco approach to the keyboard: his goal is clarity rather than passion. On a CD from The Divine Art (25018) he tackles the five surviving preludes from the eight that made up Shostakovich’s Op. 2 in 1919-20, the Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5, and Ten Aphorisms, Op. 13, coupling them with the entire piano output of another piano-playing composer who didn’t write enough for his instrument, Sir Andrzej Panufnik: Twelve Miniature Studies (1947, rev. 1955), Reflections (1968) and the Pentasonata (1984, rev. 1987). Clarke is especially good at conveying the off-the-wall perversity of the Ten Aphorisms, and his absolute technical control is vital in the exposed textures of the Panufnik. His masterly booklet essay reveals that he is also a first-rate writer on music.

—Martin Anderson