24 Preludes and Fugues, Op.87 Numbers 13-24
Colin Stone (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 5 November, 2006
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6
When you close the street door to the Red Hedgehog, you block out the Archway Road’s traffic noise. Clare gives you a warm welcome to the red upholstery of North London’s newest chamber-music venue – an intimate, cheerful space of around 100 seats, arranged in two blocks of 50. And there are some good people appearing there, too.
The genius of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues is one of the best-kept secrets of the western world. In this year, the composer’s centenary, the London scene has offered symphonies galore, string quartets, film music, ballet music and operas. But Opus 87 is an altogether rarer bird.
Colin Stone is a pianist of considerable power and stamina. (After the first concert, the week before, he played the first twelve Preludes and Fugues all over again to a distinguished, retired pianist, who was late in arriving owing to traffic delays.) Stone’s energy is important. These works are demanding and difficult – and the varying moods and styles must be keenly and precisely observed.
This Colin Stone did, admirably. His fingers are nimble, his wrists hold power and his mind is versatile and adaptable. He has a sense of humour, too – an essential feature of the best and truest playing of Shostakovich. The very first Prelude, sounding at first so Bach-like, was utterly demure and impish. That was important, too: any pianist who undertakes these works must have a solid background of Bach-playing – as Colin Stone so securely evinced. His speeds were brisk yet steady, treating shape and form as equals; the listener could appreciate the design and tonal colour of each fugal theme and follow its particular development. In this sense, Stone’s performance of each Fugue was a paradigm of clarity and musical organisation.
The Preludes were mercurial and idiomatic, their moods glinting in full sunlight. Some sparkled lightly and speedily, working up towards an eventual frenzy – recalling those crazed dance-movements in some of Shostakovich’s string quartets. There were also rumblings of something darker and more ominous. Yet, rarer in Shostakovich, there were also moments of sunlit inconsequentiality – the packs of grey clouds had left the sky, leaving only their silver linings behind. Discords and ‘false’ key relationships came as welcome adjuncts – sometimes central to the particular Prelude in question, at others providing a momentary warning like the buzzing of a wasp in search of jam.
The culmination of this parade, this circus of gaiety and sobriety, of humour and seriousness, of serenity and turbulence, and of pastoral and urban/urbane, was the extraordinary Fugue in D minor. In Colin Stone’s capable, seemingly tireless hands, it was apocalyptic. I was reminded of W. B. Yeats’s line: “What rough beast, its hour come at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
The whole performance, over two Sundays, was playing of the highest order. Watch out for Colin Stone. If you missed him at The Red Hedgehog, do catch Stone in this Shostakovich cycle, or again, at Cadogan Hall on Sunday 12 November from 2.30, when he will play all 24 Preludes and Fugues, the afternoon introduced by another champion of the work, Vladimir Ashkenazy.