24 Preludes and Fugues
(Tatiana Petrovna Nikolayeva)
Inspired by Tatiana Nikolaeva's playing of Bach at an East German piano competition, Shostakovich composed this takeoff (not to be confused with a rip-off) on The Well-Tempered Clavier expressly for her on her return to Russia. It turned out to be one of the greatest and most profound piano works of our century, and one which, until recently, remained virtually unknown. Shostakovich isn't usually thought of as a keyboard composer--indeed, there's relatively little piano music in his output. This work is special, however, because it reveals the composer dealing triumphantly with purely musical issues far removed from the epic, sometimes programmatic character of the symphonies, and the performance preserved here, by the dedicatee, is unbeatable. (review by David Hurwitz)
Shostakovich: String Quartets
(Emerson String Quartet)
Not since the decades-old Shostakovich cycle by the Borodin String Quartet have we heard such a well-played, emotion-packed performance of the composer's complete string quartets. But the Emersons somehow outdo all other Shostakovich cycles available with this thoughtful and warm recording, capturing all the power, irony, and angst that Shostakovich infused in these pieces.
Shostakovich: Symphony no 15, etc
(Emil Gilels; Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor)
The Shostakovich revival is in full swing, and what better way to hear the composer's last symphony than on this great reissue featuring Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the height of their powers. This disc, featuring the American premiere of the work from 1972, sounds better than ever, thanks to RCA's great remastering. As a bonus, we get to hear Emil Gilels perform the composer's second piano sonata.
Symphonie no 10
(Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor)
Herbert von Karajan undoubtedly wished to be remembered as this century's great German conductor. He recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies four times, Brahms twice, Bruckner almost twice. But in truth, he was better at other things, and when he worked outside his standard repertory he usually did his best work--like here, for instance. Von Karajan actually recorded this symphony once before, a good performance. But when he returned to it for a digital retread, he simply let himself go and played the pants off the piece. This performance reveals his stature as an interpreter far more clearly than any number of Beethoven cycles, and fans of the composer should add it to their collections without delay. (review by David Hurwitz)
Symphonies no 5 & 9 (Bernstein Century)
(Manuel Zegler; New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, conductor)
Leonard Bernstein's performances of Shostakovich were almost as highly regarded as his Mahler. This performance of the Fifth Symphony was the highlight of his celebrated tour of the Soviet Union with the New York Philharmonic in 1959. The composer himself attended the performances and approved of Bernstein's interpretation, which is the exact opposite of the traditional Russian one. Rather than take the finale ponderously, Bernstein flies through the music at a frantic pace, carrying it forward with irresistible momentum. The Ninth Symphony is the composer's lightest and most carefree. Bernstein walks the fine line between humor and seriousness with acrobatic skill. (review by David Hurwitz)