A great exponent of Russian piano music, Vladimir Ashkenazy is much admired for his brilliant and insightful recordings of Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Of these composers, Shostakovich poses the least daunting technical challenges, but, arguably, offers the most puzzling enigmas for interpretation. To his credit, Ashkenazy is usually circumspect and sensitive to Shostakovich's mercurial intentions. Where ambiguity holds sway, as in the brittle and unsettled Piano Sonata No. 2, or the quizzical and disturbing Aphorisms, Ashkenazy plays the music precisely and leaves the composer's riddles for the listener to ponder. Alert to the ironic possibilities in this varied body of work, Ashkenazy treads with care and generally avoids certitude. When Shostakovich flirts with parody, as in the grotesquely elegant Fantastic Dances (3) and the Lyric Waltz, there is no need to exaggerate because Shostakovich's mannerisms speak for themselves. Ashkenazy hints at his own attitudes in his subtle timing of phrases, but seldom goes further. Even though Ashkenazy's caution could be misconstrued as ambivalence, his discretion is preferable to broader, more flamboyant approaches. Only in the Polka is Ashkenazy over-indulgent. By treating this sly piece as a flashy encore, he oversteps the boundaries observed in the rest of his program, and closes the disc with a disconcerting bang.
Review by Blair Sanderson
|Sonata for piano No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61|
|Fantastic Dances (3), for piano, Op. 5|
|Preludes (5) for piano (taken from Op. 2 for inclusion in collaborative work of 24 preludes with Clements & Feldt)|
|Dances of the Dolls (7), suite for piano (arr. from the ballet suites for orchestra)|
|Aphorisms (10), for piano, Op. 13|