Peter Laul / Alexander Sandler

Shostakovich: Complete Works for Two Pianos

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Although this Northern Flowers' disc is billed as Shostakovich: Complete Works for Two Pianos, and although it does indeed contain the composer's entire oeuvre for that medium, it also contains several works for solo piano: the droll Three Fantastic Dances and comical Polka from The Age of Gold, plus the masterful Second Sonata. The reason is for their inclusion is simple. Shostakovich didn't write all that much original music for two pianos -- aside from transcriptions of some of his symphonies, there's only the massive four-movement Suite plus three lighter works composed -- the Concertino, a Tarantella, and a Merry March, spelled here as Marry March -- and without the additional solo works, this disc would have lasted a mere 36 minutes. While none of his two piano pieces could be described as major works, dedicated Shostakovich fans will have to hear them -- the Suite because the 16 year old wrote it in loving memory of his late father and the other three because the middle-aged composer wrote them for his children as a doting father. Although there have been great performances of three of the four pieces in the past -- John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas' monumental recording of the Suite and Shostakovich's own rollicking performance with his son Maxim of the Concertino -- and although this 2006 recording by Russian pianists Piotr Laul and Alexander Sandler is clearly not in the same league -- their technique and ensemble are first rate, but their performances are too fast and their interpretations are too light -- this recording will still be obligatory listening for truly dedicated fans for the simple reason that it contains the only extant recording of the Merry March, a totally charming, albeit quickly forgettable, work. As for Laul's performances of the solo piano works, while they are quick, efficient, and professional, they add nothing to Tatiana Nikolayeva's justly celebrated recordings of the Dances and the Sonata or the composer's wry and witty recording of the Dances. Northern Flowers' sound is a bit too close in the two piano works, but a bit too distant in the solo piano works.

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