Notes and Editorial Reviews
24 Preludes and Fugues,
Alexander Melnikov (pn)
HARMONIA MUNDI 902019.20 (3 CDs: 151:16)
Alexander Melnikov is no stranger to
’s pages. Colin Clarke (30:2) thought his Scriabin dazzling, if not always delivering on the “mystical” side of things, while Robert Maxham (32:4) found his account of the first movement of Beethoven’s
with Isabelle Faust
featured “mercurial changes between strength and delicacy” in a “reading [that] never seems fussy.” Here he performs Shostakovich, and with distinction.
Recordings of the preludes and fugues have been dominated over the years by Tatiana Nikolayeva. Her performances of Bach inspired the composer’s efforts, and she received the work’s dedication. Nikolayeva recorded it three times—in 1962, 1987, and 1990—each taking a monumental approach to the composition that emphasized harmonic weight and color. Melnikov by contrast favors linear clarity, and a greater prominence given to rubato. A good example is furnished by the C-Minor Prelude. Under Nikolayeva’s fingers, the spacious, massed chords of the theme sound like a Russian Orthodox hymn sung by a choir, the sustain pedal extending the notes in a way that resembles the resonating decay of a cathedral. Melnikov is at once a bit quicker, and emphasizes the top line at the expense of the supporting harmony. The answering phrase speeds up and slows down with an almost Middle Eastern chanting effect, not unlike the treatment sometimes accorded the clarinet theme in the Ninth Symphony’s second movement. To call this performance “more pianistic” would be a mistake, since both versions are being performed to excellent effect—and on a piano, at that; but certainly Melnikov’s version never ceases to remind us of his instrument, whereas Nikolayeva repeatedly suggests a number of different musical settings.
This is no slur on Melnikov. It’s simply a different approach, and in some respects a more intimate one. There is more attention paid to details of accenting, for one thing—as in the E-Major Prelude, where a slight lingering on cadence points, a diminuendo on the final cadence, and a series of rests articulate the melody to better advantage. The expansiveness and rubato accorded the Prelude in F?-Minor brings it a warmth I’ve seldom heard so well expressed, while the sharp accents and brutal zest of the Prelude in D?-Major makes it sound like the sort of music Shostakovich as a silent-film accompanist might have parodied for a saloon waltz. Some listeners will undoubtedly prefer a cooler, less emotive approach, but I find it both engaging and individual, discovering a greater measure of personality in each piece than much of the competition. A strong technique is essential for the articulation Melnikov demands, of course, and his technique is certainly up to the task.
Harmonia Mundi’s sound is excellent, boasting a full range of overtones, good equalization throughout, and no evidence of the piano’s mechanism.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal , reviewing original release HMU 902019 Read less
Works on This Recording
Preludes and Fugues (24) for Piano, Op. 87 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Alexander Melnikov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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