Keith Jarrett

Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87

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Dmitri Shostakovich's epic series of preludes and fugues for solo piano was inspired by the very composer whom you would immediately suspect -- Johann Sebastian Bach. Indeed, the Russian composer was motivated to write this huge work after a visit to Bach's home city Leipzig in 1950; and, in fact, it resurrects the premise behind Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," providing one prelude and fugue for every major and minor key. So having conquered the Bach work on recordings, Keith Jarrett decided to tackle its 20th century sequel in this two-CD set. Looking at it from one angle, this is Jarrett's most impressive technical achievement in the classical repertoire so far. Generally speaking, the Shostakovich is more difficult to play than the other classical works that he had recorded previously, and he is clearly up to all of its sometimes fearsome demands. From an interpretive angle, though, Jarrett doesn't get as much out of this music as, say, the late Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva, who gave the first performances of the work. With Nikolaeva, each note is captured and spotlighted in ever-changing lights. Jarrett is on the hunt for detail, too -- the "No. 11," "15," and "17" fugues are particularly invigorating in that respect -- yet much of the time, he tends to color things in one way. Part of this impression may be due to the sound of his piano, which is treated with ECM's usual soft-focused cloud of reverb. For Jarrett fans who are following his classical adventures, this could be a most intriguing left turn, but those seeking the definitive recording of the pieces would find Nikolaeva more stimulating.

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