Shostakovich was trained as a pianist, played many of his piano works in public and even recorded some of them (e.g. the piano concertos with André Cluytens and the Orchestre National de la RTF for Columbia). Raymond Clarke chose to record some of the early piano works of which the Three Fantastic Dances Op.5 are the best known. The Five Preludes Op.2 were written by a fourteen year old boy with a good feel for the instrument and a considerable compositional technique. In fact, the original set of eight preludes is now lost. Some time later, however, Shostakovich and two friends planned a set of 24 preludes along the same lines as Chopin’s own 24 Preludes Op.28 for which Shostakovich had selected five pieces from his early Op.2 set. The project came to nothing but his Five Preludes Op.2 were eventually published in 1966, and that is what we have here. The whole set is a delightful, youthful piece that clearly deserves to be heard, as are the Three Fantastic Dances Op.5 that already show Shostakovich’s liking for some bitter-sweet irony. Irony is also what characterises most of the Ten Aphorisms Op.13 in which the composer seems to be rebelling against the academicism of the training which he had received from Glazunov and Steinberg. To quote Raymond Clarke, “a young composer throwing out the rule book”, for each of these short pieces manages to include some perturbing element or unexpected twist within what might have been a traditional character piece.

Panufnik’s name may not be generally attached to piano music, though he too was a brilliant pianist in his youth, but composing and conducting became his main activities for most of his life. The three works here, spanning his whole composing life, actually make up his entire piano output. The Twelve Miniatures, composed in 1947 and revised in 1956 and 1964, are a suite of short, clearly characterised studies in the strict meaning of the word. The last study is a beautiful meditation of some substance. One really wonders why this fine work is so rarely heard, if at all. Reflections, composed a few days after his daughter’s birth and dedicated to his wife, was first performed by the late John Ogdon in 1972. As Clarke rightly remarks, the title implies both contemplation and the idea of the mirror-image. Quite rightly so, for many works by Panufnik are structured as palindromes of one sort or another, and the five linked sections of Reflections are also roughly laid-out as a palindrome. No bar lines are included in the score, emphasising the improvisatory character of the music.

Panufnik’s last piano work, Pentasonata, completed in 1984 with some revisions in 1987 and first performed in 1989, is in five sections relating to aspects of the classical model, also arranged as one large-scale palindrome. The prefix penta refers to the number of sections, to the pentatonic scale on which the whole work is based and also to the quintuple metre. Panufnik’s music is often based on elaborate technical considerations which are nevertheless best forgotten when listening to the music. They only serve as a technical framework in which the composer’s imagination may then be given its full expression, for Panufnik’s music aims, first and foremost, at communicating deeply-felt emotions while eschewing any temptation towards sentimentality. As such, Panufnik’s piano music may show some more private, intimate sides of its composer; and, though few in number, its musical and expressive qualities are unquestionable.

Raymond Clarke already put us much in his debt with several outstanding recordings, of which I will single out his superb Mathias/Pickard CD (Athene ATH CD15); and this release is another magnificent offering from this fine performer.

—Hubert Culot