Shostakovich was trained as a pianist, played many of his piano works in public and even recorded some of them (e.g. the piano concertos with André Cluytens and the Orchestre National de la RTF for Columbia). Raymond Clarke chose to record some of the early piano works of which the Three Fantastic Dances Op.5 are the best known. The Five Preludes Op.2 were written by a fourteen year old boy with a good feel for the instrument and a considerable compositional technique. In fact, the original set of eight preludes is now lost. Some time later, however, Shostakovich and two friends planned a set of 24 preludes along the same lines as Chopin’s own 24 Preludes Op.28 for which Shostakovich had selected five pieces from his early Op.2 set. The project came to nothing but his Five Preludes Op.2 were eventually published in 1966, and that is what we have here. The whole set is a delightful, youthful piece that clearly deserves to be heard, as are the Three Fantastic Dances Op.5 that already show Shostakovich’s liking for some bitter-sweet irony. Irony is also what characterises most of the Ten Aphorisms Op.13 in which the composer seems to be rebelling against the academicism of the training which he had received from Glazunov and Steinberg. To quote Raymond Clarke, “a young composer throwing out the rule book”, for each of these short pieces manages to include some perturbing element or unexpected twist within what might have been a traditional character piece.
Panufnik’s name may not be generally attached to piano music, though he too was a brilliant pianist in his youth, but composing and conducting became his main activities for most of his life. The three works here, spanning his whole composing life, actually make up his entire piano output. The Twelve Miniatures, composed in 1947 and revised in 1956 and 1964, are a suite of short, clearly characterised studies in the strict meaning of the word. The last study is a beautiful meditation of some substance. One really wonders why this fine work is so rarely heard, if at all. Reflections, composed a few days after his daughter’s birth and dedicated to his wife, was first performed by the late John Ogdon in 1972. As Clarke rightly remarks, the title implies both contemplation and the idea of the mirror-image. Quite rightly so, for many works by Panufnik are structured as palindromes of one sort or another, and the five linked sections of Reflections are also roughly laid-out as a palindrome. No bar lines are included in the score, emphasising the improvisatory character of the music.
Panufnik’s last piano work, Pentasonata, completed in 1984 with some revisions in 1987 and first performed in 1989, is in five sections relating to aspects of the classical model, also arranged as one large-scale palindrome. The prefix penta refers to the number of sections, to the pentatonic scale on which the whole work is based and also to the quintuple metre. Panufnik’s music is often based on elaborate technical considerations which are nevertheless best forgotten when listening to the music. They only serve as a technical framework in which the composer’s imagination may then be given its full expression, for Panufnik’s music aims, first and foremost, at communicating deeply-felt emotions while eschewing any temptation towards sentimentality. As such, Panufnik’s piano music may show some more private, intimate sides of its composer; and, though few in number, its musical and expressive qualities are unquestionable.
Raymond Clarke already put us much in his debt with several outstanding recordings, of which I will single out his superb Mathias/Pickard CD (Athene ATH CD15); and this release is another magnificent offering from this fine performer.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE:
There are more tangible connections between Shostakovich and Panufnik than one might imagine, not least the fact that that for part of their lives, both composers struggled to preserve some kind of creative integrity in the light of Stalinist repression. The three Shostakovich pieces demonstrate the considerable stylistic distance the composer travelled during the turbulent Twenties, from the Preludes, written when he was barely a teenager, to the radical and ironic Aphorisms , of 1927, which offer a tantalising glimpse of Shostakovich's possible development had the cultural environment remained more tolerant.
Panufnik's piano music is the more austere. Although the 12 Miniature Studies present a welcome juxtaposition between moods of aggression and introspection, there is a certain schematic approach to the musical material that lessens the degree of overall contrast. This feature is even more apparent in the Reflections , which is the least approachable work on the disc. But the Pentasonata is an impressive achievement, illustrating an imaginative exploitation of surprisingly simple ideas.
Pianist Raymond Clarke has long been associated with both of these composers, and gave the first London performance of Pentasonata in 1989. He is particularly good at creating a sense of atmosphere in the delicate passages of these works. The recording, made at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is warm and ambient, but an out-of-tune octave at the end of the first Panufnik study proves a little disconcerting.
Raymond Clarke folows his insightful accounts of the Shostakovich Sonatas and the Preludes, op.34 (10/99) with a disc featuring three sets of the composer's early piano pieces. The op.2 Preludes were originally eight in number, but the surviving five numbers make a well-contrasted sequence - less characterful that the well-known Fantastic Dances, but anticipating more the elegant linearity of the op. 34 Preludes.
Clarke plays with assurance, and provides the first fully recommendable account of the Aphorisms : a key work of Shostakovich's brief but eventful Modernist phase, these 10 "non-tonal" miniatures cohere at a gestural and, almost in spite of themselves, motivic level. And the degree to which an overall emotional focus manifests itself as the sequence proceeds, as Clarke himself points out iin his informative booklet note, looks forward to the suite-like construction of works from much later in Shostakovich's career.
Certainly the tonal progression of Andrzej Panufnik's Twelve Miniature Studies, a minor-key traversal through the cycle of fifths, is relatively unambiguous - aided by the contrast between the brusque, athletic odd-numbered studies and (the final piece excepted) the slow, ruminative even-numbered ones. Each of these two concurrent sequences, moreover, embodies the musical motion whose intergration gives the composer's mature output its coherence; as is demonstrated in the other two works in this programme, which both opt for an extended span of five continuous sections.
In Reflections, continuity is at a premium in what is an audacious and potent juxtaposition of dynamics and texture, meaningfully unresolved at the close. Pentasonata refashions the 'sonata' format with palindromic consistency, though the developmental section perhaps lacks the momentum necessary to steer the music back from the still focal point of its centre.
Committed and perceptive playing from Clarke, who for more than a decade now has been among the most stimulating and wide-ranging pianists of his generation, and a recorded balance which does justice to the crisp, clear outlines of the music. More discs from this source are keenly awaited.
This is an important CD, which is strongly recommended on every level. Although the early works by Shostakovich vary here from the very well known Fantastic Dances to the very little known Aphorisms, they are played with notable understanding and virtuosity. Sir Andrzej Panufnik's piano music is also by no means as well known as it clearly deserves to be, and Raymond Clarke is much to be commended for his promotion of such beautifully written compositions. Panufnik was an outstanding pianist in his own right and his Pentasonata is a major addition to the modern repertory. I very much hope that other pianists will take it up. A terrific issue, very well recorded.
Do we still think size matters, when it comes to the politically sour but musically rich 20th century? Raymond Clarke's fine, enterprising and intelligently planned new recital begs the scale versus stature question, in offering thirty short, sharp films followed by two longer features from the studios of two well-known producers of tonal symphonies. Shostakovich and Panufnik were victims and survivors of their century's long night, who retained dignity and promoted a sense of musical order in the decades after the terror, whether writing patiently of death in a still-frosty Soviet Union or, in Panufnik's case, devising idealistic, symmetrical and symbolic musical structures in the unlikely, leafy-suburban surroundings of Twickenham, England, following his escape from Stalinist Poland in 1954.
Both were also, of course, talented pianists, right from the start. Clarke's rigorous, strong, patient and thoughtful approach to the five surviving Preludes from the teenaged Shostakovich's op. 2 brings Medtner to mind; the last Prelude, stylised as it night be, summons a world of feeling in a single breath. In the Three Fantastic Dances, though, Clarke's performance, while perfectly valid and accurate, substitutes masculine strength and clarity for sensual fantasy.
By 1927 and the Ten Aphorisms, the voracious, butterfly-minded, hypersensitive and allusive young composer had combined the surreal incongruities of a Satie, a Duchamp or a Magritte with that youthful sensuality and fantasy. By the end of the Aphorisms' thirteen minutes, in this vivid performance we feel we've enjoyed - rather than endured! - a far longer and more meaningful musical journey. I wonder what Richter or Paul Jacobs might have made of these pieces, but Clarke's only serious competition remains imaginary, at present.
Quite different imaginings are suggested by Panufnik's Twelve Miniature Studies in all the minor keys, written in Poland after the war but before the anti-formalist clampdown: thoughts of being hauled out of solitary confinement without warning to be suspended over a cliff from a hurtling train - then back again; a recurring nightmare. I can also imagine a very different view of the work, with greater capricious abandon, more obvious virtuosity and local colour or character in the fast studies. By the end, however, Clarke makes us feel we have experienced something more akin to a major Beethoven Sonata, than a string of Miniatures. It is an authentic, unsettling masterpiece of mid-century piano writing.
The Reflections and Pentasonata, each lasting about a quarter of an hour, come from a distant future time of exile unimagined by the composer of the war-torn miniatures that precede them on the disc. Clarke's solemn dedication and power here put me in mind of the Copland Variations, and bode well for his forthcoming all-Copland CD.
Clarke fully exploits all the sustained power his Steinway "D" can offer, and the recording gives a reasonable impression of the instrument's mighty sound. Shostakovich devotees will have to decide whether full price is justified for the sake of a fine op. 13, and a good op. 2, or whether they want to wait for the ultimate Aphorisms. But all admirers of Panufnik, or indeed of tonal piano music from the era in general, should hear this disc. I wouldn't want to see concerns over tuning, voiced elsewhere regarding this CD, deter lovers of 20th century piano music from investigating Clarke's latest, and very welcome release.
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE:
This British recording offers a fascinating program intelligently executed. Panufnik was born in Poland but emigrated to England, where he wrote some of the complex, compelling works on this program. The Shostakovich pieces are from his student days, full of charm, whimsy and bursts of lyricism, with little hint of the darkness to come. They are also rarely heard, so this album is welcome for them alone. The Panufnik pieces are even rarer, and are played with great authority. They range from the brilliant and scintillating to the ghostly and ephemeral; the tonalities are unstable, but the designs are clear and poetic.
Raymond Clarke, who specializes in both composers and premiered the final version of Panufnik's Piano Concerto, plays all these coolly passionate works superbly and contributes expansive notes. The recording, made at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, has plenty of depth and color. Highly recommended.
These preludes are not drawn from the set of 24, op.34, that Shostakovich wrote in 1933. Rather, these five were part of a collaborative effort with two other students, when Shostakovich was thirteen years old. Three Fantastic Dances , which are often used as student pieces, were penned two years later. It is remarkable to hear distinct elements of the Shostakovich sound in this very early work, more so in the melodic and harmonic content than in the structure, which is mainly derivative. The experimental Aphorisms , completed in 1927, is a purposeful tweak to the conservative musical establishment, as attitude that was becoming increasingly dangerous for the young composer, as the Stalinist cultural atmosphere became ever more oppressive through the 1930s. It is hard to imagine, listening today, that these plucky, clever little nuggets, which are overtly theatrical and completely accessible, could have ruffled any feathers.
Andrzej Panufnik was a Polish composer who lived from 1914 to 1991. He wrote the Twelve Miniature Studies in 1947, shortly before he fled from Communist Poland, where he was subject to the same pressures as Shostakovich and his colleagues were in Russia. This is a very lively and ingenious work, covering all 12 minor keys in quick blasts between one and three minutes in duration. The dynamics vary greatly, from loud and fast to slow and very quiet, with much use of the una corda pedal. Reflections , from 1968, follows form the contemplative side of the studies, and is devoid of overt virtuosity for a 13-minute duration. This is music that may be better suited for individual contemplation rather than for public display. The Pentasonata was written in 1984. The title refers to the use of the pentatonic scale, the use of five beats to a measure, and that the work is in five sections. This is a spiky, episodic work, featuring the sort of alternating dynamics of the Twelve Miniature Studies , but in a much more abstract manner.
British pianist Raymond Clarke plays this music with great affection and understanding, even if there are splashy moments in some of the Panufnik that lack the last degree of sparkle and agility. He also contributes the superbly informative program notes.
What a loss to music that Shostakovich didn't provide a large solo repertoire for his own instrument: it's not difficult to imagine him producing a twentieth-century equivalent of Beethoven's sonata-cycle. As it is, the magnificent Op. 87 cycle of preludes and fugues apart, all we have is from his early years, where his voice is predominantly ironic, before the threat of real violence from the state helped trigger a deepening and broadening of his musical language. Two CDs show a contrasting approach to these works. Oleg Marshev fills out an exemplary disc (Danacord DACOCD 601) of the two piano concertos with the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, of 1932-33. Marshev is a Romantic player par excellence - his Rachmaninov concertos (Danacord DACOCD 582-583) went straight to the top of the pile - and he brings a nineteenth-century richness to the music which underlines its position in the Russian pianistic tradition. Raymond Clarke, by contrast, is an intellectual, an analyst, who has a more secco approach to the keyboard: his goal is clarity rather than passion. On a CD from The Divine Art (25018) he tackles the five surviving preludes from the eight that made up Shostakovich's Op. 2 in 1919-20, the Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5, and Ten Aphorisms, Op. 13, coupling them with the entire piano output of another piano-playing composer who didn't write enough for his instrument, Sir Andrzej Panufnik: Twelve Miniature Studies (1947, rev. 1955), Reflections (1968) and the Pentasonata (1984, rev. 1987). Clarke is especially good at conveying the off-the-wall perversity of the Ten Aphorisms, and his absolute technical control is vital in the exposed textures of the Panufnik. His masterly booklet essay reveals that he is also a first-rate writer on music.
Five Preludes from op.2,3 by Shostakovich, plus the premiere recording of all Sir Andrzej Panufnik's music. The music is easily absorbed, even light in nature in the case of Shostakovich, and very approachable. Raymond Clarke's playing is effective and clean. Recorded in the King's Hall of Newcastle University it's worth a try. * * * (three star award)