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PRELUDES VOL.2 - SHOSTAKOVICH, SZYMANOWSKI
Alexandra Dariescu

 

 

 
1. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:46]
Five Preludes for Piano: I. Allegro moderato e’scherzando

2. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:13]
Five Preludes for Piano: II. Andante

3. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:56]
Five Preludes for Piano: III. Allegro moderato

4. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:45]
Five Preludes for Piano: IV. Moderato

5. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:21]
Five Preludes for Piano: V. Andantino

6. Szymanowski, Karol [01:59]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: I. Andante ma non troppo

7. Szymanowski, Karol [02:52]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: II. Andante con moto

8. Szymanowski, Karol [01:20]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: III. Andantino

9. Szymanowski, Karol [01:25]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: IV. Andantino con moto

10. Szymanowski, Karol [01:11]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: V. Allegro molto – impetuoso

11. Szymanowski, Karol [02:16]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: VI. Lento – Mesto

12. Szymanowski, Karol [02:49]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: VII. Moderato

13. Szymanowski, Karol [02:43]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: VIII. Andante ma non troppo

14. Szymanowski, Karol [02:28]
Nine Preludes for Piano Op. 1: IX. Lento – Mesto

15. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:17]
24 Preludes Op. 34: I. Moderato

16. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:58]
24 Preludes Op. 34: II. Allegretto

17. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:12]
24 Preludes Op. 34: III. Andante

18. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:27]
24 Preludes Op. 34: IV. Moderato

19. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:31]
24 Preludes Op. 34: V. Allegro vivace

20. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:20]
24 Preludes Op. 34: VI. Allegretto

21. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:25]
24 Preludes Op. 34: VII. Andante

22. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:03]
24 Preludes Op. 34: VIII. Allegretto

23. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:40]
24 Preludes Op. 34: IX. Presto

24. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:17]
24 Preludes Op. 34: X. Moderato non troppo

25. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:50]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XI. Allegretto

26. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:22]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XII. Allegro non troppo

27. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:56]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XIII. Moderato

28. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:11]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XIV. Adagio

29. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:58]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XV. Allegretto

30. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:07]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XVI. Andantino

31. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:03]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XVII. Largo

32. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:49]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XVIII. Allegretto

33. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:37]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XIX. Andantino

34. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:41]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XX. Allegretto furioso

35. Shostakovich, Dmitri [00:38]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XXI. Allegretto poco moderato

36. Shostakovich, Dmitri [02:16]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XXII. Adagio

37. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:25]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XXIII. Moderato

38. Shostakovich, Dmitri [01:20]
24 Preludes Op. 34: XXIV. Allegretto

Artist(s):
Alexandra Dariescu, piano


Volume II of Alexandra Dariescu’s series of complete piano preludes presents the music of Shostakovich and Szymanowski.
Her initial release of music by Chopin and Dutilleux was highly praised by critics:
“Dariescu is a deeply impressive exponent of both composers’ work, bringing to every piece the lucidity and sensitivity it commands” Sunday Times “Each is a perfect gem, which Dariescu opens up, layer by layer, like a Russian doll” Norman Lebrecht, sinfini.com

Alexandra writes: “Shostakovich’s Preludes are a mirror of sarcasm, they are depictive, full of irony, in many ways like circus music combined with romantic sentimentality while Szymanowski paints images of the soul; his music is storytelling, as if an old man talks about his life, with regret, caressing every sound and every feeling.”

She also says “As for the CD cover, I had this firm image of Shostakovich in his younger days playing the piano in the cinema for a silent film which was so popular in the 1930s when he wrote his Op. 34.”
Shostakovich came to adulthood in an age of catastrophic instability and in 1919, when the thirteen-year-old enrolled at the Petrograd Conservatory he walked miles each day to attend. During this time he began a cycle of preludes in collaboration with two college friends, Pavel Feldt and Georgi Klements. 18 were completed and in the mid 1960s he returned to the manuscript and selected the five of his eight for publication as a group in the official collected edition of his works.

His other cycle, Op. 34, was begun in December 1932 (at the same time he was working on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) and written swiftly, with the first complete performance given in Moscow in May 1933. Szymanowski’s Nine Preludes Op. 1 reflect the young composer’s considerable knowledge of Chopin and of German Romantic repertoire with two of the preludes written at the young age of fourteen. The collection as a whole can be seen as a bridge between Chopin’s great achievement and the artistic aspirations of young Polish composers at the turn of the twentieth century. 


 

 


It is a common human desire, formed during infancy, to stand on solid ground, to experience the world as certain and secure. There have been times when history has projected an illusion of changelessness, usually recalled and labelled with hindsight as gilded ages. The reality of impermanence, however, rarely remains hidden for long. Dmitri Shostakovich came to adulthood in an age of catastrophic instability, marked by aggressive militarism, mechanised slaughter and bloody insurrection. In 1919 the thirteen-year old enrolled at the Petrograd Conservatory. His first year there was blighted by the institution’s lack of heating and the privations of a country locked in civil warfare. The evidence suggests that he was a diligent student, eager to retain the support of the Conservatory’s director, the composer Alexander Glazunov, and ready to walk miles every day from home to attend lessons. As a pianist, Shostakovich drew attention to the individuality of his music-making; the teenaged performer no doubt inspired envy among some contemporaries with his uncanny ability in sight-reading and the striking maturity of his interpretations of works such as the late Beethoven sonatas and Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage.

During his time at the Conservatory, Shostakovich collaborated with two college friends, Pavel Feldt and Georgi Klements, on a cycle of preludes for solo piano in the twelve major and twelve minor keys. Their creative collective completed 18 preludes between 1919 and 1921, eight of which were by Shostakovich. In the mid-1960s he returned to the autograph manuscript and selected five of his preludes for publication as a group in the official collected edition of his works. Shades of the Rimsky-Korsakov school of composition fleet over the surface of the Five Preludes, expressed above all in terms of their sense of rhythmic confidence and harmonic colour. Their strongest influences, however, were drawn from such recent works as Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives and Debussy’s Violin Sonata – echoes of which sound towards the elegant first prelude’s close, and the chromaticism and intensity of Scriabin’s late piano miniatures, heard in the third prelude’s 5/8 swagger. The fourth prelude dwells in a world of Tchaikovskian introspection, while the fifth, cast in flowing pastoral style, presents a main theme that pre-echoes that of the composer’s Eleventh Symphony of 1957. The Shostakovich expert David Fanning suggests that these works ‘are as much composition exercises as they are concert pieces’, a view supported by their studied exploration of ABA form and thematic development.

 

Shostakovich’s family circumstances changed following the death of his father in 1922. He found occasional work two years later as a cinema pianist, employed to accompany silent films in Leningrad, the new name for Petrograd. The poorly paid job helped cover the cost of his advanced studies at the city’s Conservatory. While fame followed the premiere of Shostakovich’s First Symphony in 1925, his mother’s reduced financial situation directed the young composer to take on commissions for theatre music, ballet scores and film scores. ‘I will not sell my freedom cheaply,’ he wrote in March 1927, soon after Vesevolod Meyerhold offered him work in Moscow. Shostakovich, attracted by the great theatre director’s creative spark and a generous salary offer, became musical director at the Meyerhold Theatre in 1928; he also found time to complete his first opera, The Nose, written with the proletariat in mind. The following year he composed his first film score, for Kozintsev and Trauberg’s New Babylon, completed his Third Symphony, and appeared as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.1 in Leningrad.

 

The record of Shostakovich’s professional life during the 1920s and early 1930s, rich in details of new works, theatre shows, concert performances and experiments with silent and sound films, bears witness to the man’s enterprise, extraordinary musical facility and pioneering spirit. The 24 Preludes Op.34 grew out of this period of frenetic activity, during which Shostakovich experienced the unfamiliar taste of hostile criticism: The Nose was, for example, attacked as a case of ‘the infantile sickness of leftism’ and charged with the ideologically unforgiveable crime of ‘formalism’. In response Shostakovich issued a searing denunciation of the development of Soviet theatre music and his own contributions to it. ‘We composers answer for the situation on the musical front,’ he observed in his ‘Declaration of a Composer’s Duties’, published in November 1931. ‘I am deeply convinced that it is precisely the universal flight of the composers into the theatre that has created such a situation.’

 

Shostakovich’s polemic omitted the fact that he was working at the time on a new opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, conceived as a private creative project rather than to satisfy a public commission. After making his ‘Declaration’, he also continued to work on multiple dramatic projects and collaborate with Soviet film-makers. Two weeks after completing Lady Macbeth, he found respite from the demands of creating large-scale works with a return to writing for his own instrument for the first time in five years. He crafted the first of his Twenty-Four Preludes Op.34 on 30 December 1932 and wrote seven others, at the rate of almost one a day, in time for him to perform them during a concert devoted to his music at the Leningrad Philharmonic’s Bolshoi Hall on 17 January 1933. Shostakovich completed the cycle on 2 March and gave its premiere in full on 24 May 1933 at the Moscow Conservatory’s Malyi Hall.

 

The Op.34 Preludes exchanged the exuberance of Lady Macbeth for a more classical, restrained musical language, one to be developed and refined by Shostakovich in decades to come. They also established a new phase of instrumental composition, soon enhanced by the appearance of the Piano Concerto No.1 – clearly influenced by the playful nature of several of the Preludes – and the Sonata for cello and piano.

 

Shostakovich’s Preludes, like those of Chopin’s Preludes Op.28, chart a cycle through all the keys, presented as twelve relative major and minor pairs organised around the circle of fifths. The preludes move from C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor and so on towards the final pair in F major and D minor. While the formal ground-plan of each prelude generally falls into three distinct parts, the individual patterns of their construction are strikingly complex; likewise, the fine details of Shostakovich’s melodic and harmonic invention subvert any sense that these are nostalgic throwbacks to an earlier age of keyboard composition. In his perceptive assessment of contrasting analytical approaches to the Op.34 Preludes, David Haas concludes that ‘the raw count of dissonances and the laxity in applying traditional techniques of dissonance treatment are sufficient to allow one to deduce that this conservatoire graduate not only received his training in the twentieth century, but that he had still not made a rapprochement with the strict academic norms of his [Conservatory] mentors.’

 

The original quality of Shostakovich’s aphoristic writing appears with the opening prelude’s pensive main theme, which immediately undermines the security of the work’s C major tonality. It may be that many of the preludes occupy no more than a single printed page but each conveys a clear mood and dramatic character. The third prelude, among the cycle’s longest pieces, shifts gear abruptly from the romantic lyricism of its opening to deliver a melodramatic outburst of the kind no doubt required of Shostakovich during his time as a cinema pianist. Harmonic uncertainty and melodic impetuosity form a potent union in the brief fifth prelude, from which the composer distils the essence of virtuosity: one theorist has uncovered almost a dozen scales in different keys within its short span. The sixth prelude has something of the circus polka about it, while its asperity and abrupt conclusion, whether intentionally or not, mirror the anxiety abroad in Stalin’s Russia in the early 1930s, a turbulent period during which culture and Soviet power became inextricably linked.

 

Two-part counterpoint plays a significant role in several of the preludes, aiding the expressive development of the seventh’s sombre theme and carrying the energetic argument of its minor-keyed successor. Shostakovich conjures up a nocturne in the tenth prelude, providing necessary repose between the wild rides of the ninth and eleventh. The twelfth prelude, cast in G sharp minor, grows increasingly introspective as it unfolds, with unexpected harmonic shifts intensifying its lachrymose nature. Prelude thirteen appears to offer a study in musical sarcasm: the piece begins in confident fashion but, thanks not least to its repeated bass figure, becomes stuck and soon fades to nothing. High drama rules the fourteenth prelude. Leopold Stokowski recognised its symphonic conception within weeks of the cycle’s publication in the United States in 1933. The conductor arranged the work for orchestra and included it on the final side of his 78rpm recordings of Shostakovich’s First Symphony.

 

The fifteenth prelude’s spiky melody and relentless repetition call to mind the music of a fairground organ, while the theme of the sixteenth could pass for a patriotic song from Tsarist times, albeit spiced with ‘wrong’ notes. The slow waltz of prelude seventeen veers towards the grotesque before the completion of its opening phrase. Its unsettling atmosphere finds no resolution at the close; rather, it is projected into silence. Prelude eighteen also leaves the listener in suspense. The nineteenth prelude, like the seventh, stands as a gentle song without words, one with more than a hint of bourgeois cabaret about it. Shostakovich appears to issue a proclamation in the twentieth prelude, expressed perhaps as a call to attention. It serves, together with its delightful successor, as a curtain-raiser to the exquisite twenty-second prelude, an Adagio in G minor inflected with profound nostalgic melancholy. The penultimate prelude extracts rich expressive juice from its simple thematic material, reaching a powerful climax before evaporating into thin air. Shostakovich closes with the wit of his D minor prelude, the flowing coda of which crowns his cycle of piano miniatures.

 

Karol Szymanowski was raised at a time of growing political mobilisation in Poland. The country’s long partition and rule under the empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany led in the 1880s to the formation of organisations devoted to the development of Polish culture, language and national identity. Szymanowski’s family, like many among Poland’s landed gentry, had made the best of partition by developing a productive country estate in the Ukraine. He received his early musical education at home at Tymoszówka before attending the music school in nearby Elisavetgrad, known today as Kirovohrad. Many years later one of his Elisavetgrad classmates recalled that Szymanowski’s earliest surviving works, the seventh and eighth of the Nine Preludes, were written in 1896. The full collection of preludes was completed by 1900 and published six years later as Szymanowski’s Op.1. It was widely admired as the work of one of the founding members of the Young Poland in Music group, recently established in Warsaw by Szymanowski in company with three fellow composers as a musical complement to the Young Poland movement in Polish literature.

 

The Nine Preludes Op.1 reflect the young Szymanowski’s considerable knowledge of Chopin and of German Romantic repertoire. The two ‘Elisavetgrad’ preludes are remarkably assured creations for a fourteen-year old, projecting strong echoes of Chopin’s nocturnes. The collection’s first prelude achieved popularity as an encore piece, thanks not least to its heartfelt singing melody and flowing accompaniment. Jim Samson, in his fine monograph of the music of Szymanowski, finds high value in the Nine Preludes as a bridge between Chopin’s great achievement and the artistic aspirations of young Polish composers at the turn of the twentieth century. ‘In a very real sense,’ he observes, ‘Szymanowski, in his first published work, reforged the broken links of Poland’s musical tradition, consolidating an inheritance which had been all but squandered by his Polish predecessors.’

Andrew Stewart



   
   

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