Isn’t it strange how, just when you think you know someone, they turn around and surprise you?
I used to think I knew Shostakovich. Hadn’t I exulted in the tortured magnificence of those fifteen symphonies? Thrilled to the raw energy of those string quartets? Listened open-mouthed to the almost pornographic flamboyance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk?
Then, three days ago, I discovered Opus 87.
Inspired by J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 showcases the Russian genius as I’d never heard him before. Tender and precise, passionate and formal, these 48 short pieces combine the delicate lyricism of Chopin with the mathematical drive of Bach, adding a hint of neurotic inventiveness that is pure Shostakovich. Shostakovich’s mastery of the piano is evident in every note – as he adds voice after voice to the keyboard, creating fugues of dazzling complexity; or composes preludes that are by turns soulful and dramatic. Who knew that Shostakovich could work in miniature this way? Together, these 24 Preludes and Fugues a formidable masterwork from one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers, one that deserves to be part of the collection of piano music aficionados everywhere.