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Dmitri Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, op. 87

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Audio CD, December 12, 2006
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Product Details

  • Performer: Keith Jarrett
  • Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
  • Audio CD (December 12, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: ECM New Series
  • ASIN: B000006MTX
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,778 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Keith Jarrett, known primarily as a jazz pianist, has exhibited a great deal of courage with his recording of classical "standards" such as this one. By doing so he opens himself to accusations of dillitantism from critics, who seem almost universally inclined to place artists into narrow categories, only to label as "pretentious" any performers who try to expand their horizons...a process that usually reveals the critics' own pretentions and ignorance.
A recording like this is particularly risky business for Jarrett, who has always been controversial with critics for his unique, individualistic style, his aggressive self-assurance and unwillingness to "suffer fools gladly", and his well-known tendency to "sing" along with his jazz improvisations. Add to everything else the fact that a "standard" of this particular work already exists (in this case Tatyana Nikolaieva's Grammy-winning interpretation), and this recording faces quite an uphill battle.
Proving, however, that he is a superior artist, Jarrett's recording of the 24 Preludes and Fugues demolishes all of these would-be objections. Jarrett's interpretation of Shostakovich is perhaps the clearest, most articulate recording ever made of these works, revealing subtlties of texture and mood that previously remained hidden on the printed page...without sacrificing anything in terms of emotion. Part of the credit for this clarity goes to the superior ECM technical recording skills, but any fan of Jarrett's musicality (both expressiveness and clarity) in his jazz playing will find the same qualities here. Incidentally, one thing you won't find here is Jarrett's "singing"...it's missing from all of his classical work.
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Format: Audio CD
Keith Jarrett himself must have expected wildly polarized reviews on his take of Shostakovich's preludes and fugues, and it's no wonder, as he is more popularly known as a modern jazz master.

As I have had access to a public radio station music library, I decided to spend a weekend comparing and contrasting the different recording of this Opus 87, with score in-hand, by Jarrett, Nikolayevna, and Ashkenazy. I rate Jarrett first, second place going to Nikolayevna, and Ashkenazy bringing up a rather indifferent rear.

Jarrett's interpretation seems to be most often panned on grounds that he "doesn't understand the music", which is sheer hogwash. Add this to the fact that most critics fail to state what are the prerequisites for understanding this music, and I suggest it's a lot more than understanding Shostakovich's "pain"; a rather over-romantic view of a composer who could and did write extremely emotional music, but also music with humor and grace. There's a lot more to Shostakovich than just "pain". Jarrett has obviously studied the pieces well, and plays each prelude and fugue with flawless technique and even daring interpretation that is notably original, the most obvious case being the C-major fugue being taken at what sounds like a *very* slow pace. But having access to the score, he's taking it at the specified tempo: 92-to-the-quarter, interpreting the "alla breve" by playing very legato. So why do the other recordings have it so fast?

Jarrett's A-major fugue shines like the sun; his A flat-major fugue becomes a giddy, but slyly understated dance. (I should add here that in the A-flat prelude Ashkenazy makes a rather shocking note discrepancy in the main theme that either passed a producer's ear or was mis-read in the printed edition.
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Format: Audio CD
I own recordings of this work by Jarrett, Ashkenazy and Nikolayeva (on Hyperion). Ultimately it is Jarrett's version that I find myself listening to most often. My main gripe with Nikolayeva is that she can be excessively slow. Ashkenazy -- though technically strong as one would expect -- has a tendency to hammer out some of the fugues in rigid staccato that suppresses the natural lyricism of the music. The flip side as argued by another reviewer is that Jarrett is sometimes "mushy", but that seems a little harsh to me. Unless you have a very particular opinion on how these pieces must sound (in which case you can listen to them yourself) this recording makes a fine choice.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is my one of my favorite CDs of all time. I also have the Nikolaeva version, but I like this one better. I have bought it three times: once for me, once as a gift, and once to listen to in the car. I don't know what to say about some of the recent reviewers who pan it. I don't think they listened to the same CD as I did (or as many times as I have, i.e. hundreds). I bought it first in 1992 (I don't think the release date shown as 2000 is accurate).

This is the first Shostakovich recording I ever bought, and since then I have become a big fan of Shostakovich, particularly his string quartets.

I think it is a shame that not many modern composers have gone through the 24 major and minor keys, and have written prelude-and-fugue pairs on them, the way Bach did, and Shostakovich after Bach.

Update, Feb 2013 - I just bought it a fourth time (as MP3s). I reviewed this originally in 2003. This is still one of my favorite records of all time.
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Dmitri Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, op. 87
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