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On CD: Melnikov's Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich: Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. Alexander Melnikov. Harmonia Mundi.

by Tom Huizenga

J.S. Bach may not have been the first keyboardist to couple a prelude with a fugue (Buxtehude beat him by several decades), but his series of Preludes and Fugues that form the Well-Tempered Clavier became a nearly continuous source of inspiration for countless composers who followed.

In 1950, the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich traveled to Leipzig to celebrate Bach's bicentennial. There he witnessed compatriot pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva playing the Well-Tempered Clavier, and quickly began composing his own set of preludes and fugues in all 24 keys.
(read more after the jump)

Ever since, Shostakovich's Op. 87 set belonged to Nikolaeva. She debuted the music in 1952, recorded it three times and never stopped playing it until she died in 1993. But now there's a new contender for the crown of this quietly monumental but misunderstood music.

Pianist Alexander Melnikov's brilliant new recording should convince any holdouts that Shostakovich's massive 150-minute set is far from what has occasionally been called dour and academic.

Even more than in the composer's own 1950s recordings, Melnikov unlocks the poetry, mysticism, violence and virtuosity in these pieces, many of which sound nothing like the sardonic, twitchy music often associated with Shostakovich.

Melnikov paints the 13th Prelude and Fugue with open-air simplicity and the watercolor freshness of Ravel, while No. 17 feels like a nursery rhyme turning sour. Melnikov's technical prowess is blistering in No. 15's chaotic fugue. But he's also revelatory in slower music, especially the enigmatic No. 16 fugue, with its improvised, almost medieval flavor.

In this music, Shostakovich pushed and stretched Bach's sturdy formulas. Thanks to Melnikov we're even more delighted that he did.

--Tom Huizenga

By Anne Midgette  |  August 18, 2010; 6:28 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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I love this music. I have Keith Jarrett and Jenny Lin playing it. Is there anyone who's heard either of those and this new one who can tell me whether the new one is necessary for my better listening?

Posted by: Lindemann777 | August 19, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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