SHOSTAKOVICH: 24 Preludes and Fugues / Hannes Minnaar, pianist / Challenge Classics CC72907
Here is yet another fascinating release, Dmitri Shostakovich’s woefully underplayed (and under-recorded) Preludes and Fugues. While everyone and their uncle is re-recording the Bach series, the still-young (aged 38) Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar bravely tackles this challenging set of pieces.
My gold standard in this music is the 2015 set by American pianist Craig Sheppard, who also recorded an interesting (if very idiosyncratic) set of the Beethoven Sonatas as well as some extremely interesting Bach. As Bryce Morrison wrote in the Gramophone about Sheppard’s set:
Here, clearly at the zenith of his career, he achieves a brilliantly inclusive poise and brio that go to the very heart of Shostakovich.
So how does Minnaar compare to Sheppard? In the first two selections, interestingly if not, to my ears, as dynamically. Whereas Sheppard takes the first fugue at a brisk tempo, emphasizing the counterpoint, Minnaar takes it softly and slowly, bringing it more in line with the opening Prelude. Yet as the series continues, Minnaar does indeed play some of the music crisply and with considerable energy; it’s only the first fugue that I found somewhat disappointing. Sheppard has a leaner piano tone than Minnaar, which is closer to the Russian style, but not by much. Indeed, as the series progressed, I found myself liking Minnaar’s approach quite a bit. Both Sheppard and Minnaar capture the sad, wistful quality of many of the Preludes, which is the right way to play them. The fourth fugue, in E minor, is also played slowly and wistfully. This is, of course, his prerogative to play then this way if he so chooses, and since I couldn’t find a score online to check against, I don’t know for certain that this is what Shostakovich wrote. It certainly sets a different mood when he does so, that’s for certain.
Let me put it this way: if I were listening to these performances in person, and not have the chance to compare them to Sheppard’s, I would certainly have liked them in their own way. My ultimate preference for Sheppard’s recording is based primarily on his more dynamic readings of several of the fugues, which I think are closer to score. Taken on its own merits, this is a very fine set of these works and certainly worth your investigating it. Minnaar creates a real mood with these pieces that is not mawkish or soporific; his concept draws the listener into each piece, his playing of the counterpoint is clear and precise, and nothing he does sounds artificial or foreign to the music, personal though it may be. In toto, then, a very interesting if very individual reading worth checking out.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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3 thoughts on “Minnaar Plays Shostakovich”
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I absolutely love this piano music, including the range of interpretations it offers. That’s certainly the case with the two sets I own, Konstnatin Scherbakov in contrast to Keith Jarrett.
I wish Minnaar’s piano had not been so warmly recorded . I prefer a starker piano sound for Shostakovich . More clarity and ping – less warmth .Love his playing though .His Bach Goldberg in particular is one of my favourites.