24 Preludes and Fugues, Op.87 Numbers 1-12
Colin Stone (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 29 October, 2006
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6
In 1950, Shostakovich visited Leipzig, during the bicentenary of J. S. Bach’s birth – in the nature of a pilgrimage, perhaps?
The trip bore two fruits. Following the example of his illustrious predecessor, Shostakovich devised an individual musical signature, based on the German notation for DSCH. He used this notation [D-E flat-C-B] at significant moments in many of his subsequent works, notably the Tenth Symphony where, musically, he asserted his identity as an individual person in defiance of Stalin’s ruling that an artist was no more than a servant of the state. The Leipzig visit also inspired Shostakovich to write a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues. I know of no other major composer of international renown, who, in his mid-40s no less, undertook such a venture.
What inspired him to do this?
I risk some guesses. This self-tormented man sought to contact a sturdy, enduring voice of protection and safety. A sensitive man living through terrifying times, he also sought a voice that was calm and sane. Picture, if you will – better still, hear in your head – the enduring truth of a pianist playing Bach in the ruins of Leningrad, as bomb-blast dust sifts through the sunlit air. Recall Furtwängler keeping the beacon of Beethoven’s spirit alight through the time of Hitler’s outrages upon Germany and then envisage Shostakovich finding solace in Bach’s sanity during the madness of Stalin’s similarly outrageous offences upon Mother Russia.
I see these Preludes and Fugues as, in short, an act of homage, an act of redemption and an act of immersing – the act of renewing and making once more clean.
In the first of two recitals devoted to the whole cycle, the first 12 Preludes and Fugues began a major spiritual experience – a shimmering tribute to Shostakovich’s idiosyncratic and mercurial journey of the soul. In many respects, these compositions – intimate and sparing, on the one instrument only – brought us to Shostakovich’s core, a place of deep, honest vulnerability.
Colin Stone’s unforgettable playing – his astonishing technique apart – was a labour of insight, a labour of love. The second recital, completing the cycle, should not be missed.
- Colin Stone plays Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues 13-24 at 4 o’clock on 5 November
- The Red Hedgehog
- The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
- Box Office: 020 8348 5050