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the project

In February 1948, Shostakovich was denounced by the Communist Party chairman, Andrei Zhdanov, for political incorrectness and although rehabilitated three months later, it was the composer's second reprimand in just over a decade. His official standing and income was reduced and he was dismissed from the Moscow Conservatorium.

In his Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer recounts Stalin's ensuing five-year period of terror during which Shostakovich frequently lay awake in the small hours listening to NKVD officers knocking on doors throughout his apartment building wondering when it might be his turn. Given the fate of neighbours and colleagues who were either deported to remote Arctic labor camps, whose careers were terminated or who simply vanished, Shostakovich spent many nights camped outside his apartment door, bag packed in readiness for the secret police to arrive, so as to avoid the impression that an impending arrest might inevitably have on his family.

For the remainder of 1948 Shostakovich fulfilled agitprop government commissions with film scores for Michurin op.78 and Meeting at Elba op.80, whilst quietly completing the non-commissioned First Violin Concerto op.77 and vocal cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry op.79. The following year after his formal rehabilitation, he visited America on a staged, propaganda basis, and completed further agitprop commissions with music for the film The Fall of Berlin op.82 and the oratorio Song of the Forests op. 81, before completing his Fourth String Quartet op.83. In 1950, his reputation still not recovered, he traveled to Leipzig where he was one of the judges of the First International Bach Competition during the bicentennial commemoration of the composer's death.

Inspired by the experience and by the twenty-six-year-old Russian pianist-composer Tatiana Nikolayeva's performance of Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, he completed a set of twenty-four preludes and fugues in all keys, on his return to Moscow, commencing October, 1950, and completing them in March, 1951.

Thematic material and fragments from such works as the First Violin Concerto (1947-8), From Jewish Poetry (1948), the Third, Fourth and Fifth String Quartets are present throughout the cycle. They form the gestalt of a language that later became associated with a middle period of the composer's compositional maturity.

For the publication of op.87, Shostakovich chose not to follow Bach's ascending chromatic-steps but the same circle of fifths, and in the same order of relative major and minor keys, as Fryderyk Chopin in his twenty-four Préludes, op.28 with twenty-four fugues consisting of one five-voice (no.13, in F-sharp major), one two-voice (no.9, in E major) and eleven in each of three and four voices.

In op. 87, the composer developed double and triple fugue structures, ending the cycle with references to Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge and with an extended tierce de Picardie in triumphant flashback to the Finale of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony op. 49, (1937-38).

Thematic fragments throughout the Shostakovich cycle op.87 include motto quotations from Das wohltemperirte Clavier with additional applications of B-A-C-H and letters that could be used as musical pitches from his own name (D-S-C-H [his inititals in German transliteration of the Cyrrilic spelling of Shostakovich]) that had first appeared in the Second Piano Sonata op. 61, (1942).

A rapid tourist guide to Shostakovich's magnum keyboard opus would include: the four-voice Fugue 1, in C-major that pays homage not only to Bach's opening C-major Prelude and Fugue, Book I, but offers a fugue conceived entirely for the white notes and with some challenging stretches, such as occur in Fugues 7, 17 and 23. Since the cycle moves in relative pairs, the second Prelude is an A minor toccata with implied cantus firmus developed as a perpetuum mobile before moving around the circle of fifths to a more obvious cantus firmus used throughout Prelude 4, in E minor. It is trumped only by the spectacular compositional virtuosity and complexity of the final part of a double fugue where Shostakovich exploits every conceivable contrapuntal device including double stretto, cancrizan, augmentation, diminution, pedal point and invertible counterpoint.

The dotted rhythms of the French overture used for Prelude 6 in B minor are followed by a four-voice Fugue whose countersubject adopts the role of a secondary subject as part of a double-fugue construction. It holds an important thematic link in preparation for the Tenth Symphony. Prelude 7 is a lucid two-part invention and the Fugue is constructed on the second inversion of an extended A-major triad. It is followed by a Mussorgsky passacaglia for Prelude 12 in G-sharp minor which ends with the first statement of a fugue subject concealed in the bass before its headlong flight into a blistering four-voice marcatissimo Fugue. This concept is extended into the martellato, motoric rhythms of Fugue 15, in D-flat major that contains all the notes of the serial row for the subject except for the last entry, which is reserved for the final resolution. Bleak symphonic soundscapes of Prelude 14 in E-flat minor and the sombre C-minor Prelude 20, could easily be mistaken for Russian steppe that constitute the musical landscape of the opening movement of the Eleventh Symphony, Op.103 (1957) and wistful Prelude 16 whose B-flat minor theme and variations are equally plaintive. Fugue 16's elegiac arabesques are developed from the cycle's most expansive fugue subject. A-tonal E-flat applications that dominate Fugue 19 are preceded and succeeded by keyboard orchestrations later recalled in Symphonies 11 and 13. Brilliant B-flat clarinet writing for the break-neck perpetuum mobile from the last movement of the cello sonata return for Prelude 21 as preparation for the contrasting textures of the Tenth Symphony's Allegro followed by a fugue subject dominated by perfect fourths reminiscent of Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis. Poignant intervallic juxtapositions of alto and tenor voices throughout Prelude 23 in F major, are followed by another extended fugue subject in finely sculpted legato cantabile.

The final D-minor fugue is a fitting crown to the cycle where triple fugue masquerades as double, and permutations of the D-S-C-H motto return together with references to Die Kunst der Fuge and Das Wohltemperirte Clavier. In Kampf-und-Sieg stages of compositional growth an extended D-major coda recalls the victorious closing pages of the Fifth Symphony Op.47 (1937) (conducted by Leonard Bernstein of course!)

Despite many natural anxieties, the creative artist had learnt to be more adept in managing his 1948 condemnation, the loss of his professorship - and public humiliation - as well as his handling of the political apparatus of the time, than he was in 1936-7. And, although the possible long-term consequences of his being publicly labeled politically incorrect, deeply concerned him, he immediately attended to his various agitprop, Party, film and oratorio commissions whilst simultaneously completing serious works of non-commissioned art-music.

Simultaneously, he sought out Bach who lifted up the tormented artist's soul and his nightmare existence. The loving conversation between the two becomes evident in a full flowering of the chorale setting throughout Prelude 10 (in C-sharp minor) and in the simplicity of its heart-rending fugue. Bach provided the spiritual nourishment for Shostakovich and guided him through the unremitting political repression of 1948-51 at a time when he was suffering as much as the rest of the nation. Gratitude permeates every page of his op.87 cycle in which homage was paid to the father of Western music.

Roger Woodward

the artist

In the early 1970s, the world knew little about Australian classical musicians. It was thus a very unusual incident when a young pianist by the name of Roger Woodward, having begun his studies as a church musician and organist in Sydney, made his way to Warsaw, in search of what he later called Chopin's "sacred cantilena". He soon attracts the attention of the local musicians' community, and before too long he is asked to travel to the United States, making his Carnegie Hall debut with Witold Rowicki and the Warsaw Philharmonic playing Bartok's 2nd Piano Concerto. A whirlwind of activity ensues, and before too long, Woodward was asked to come to London to record the Preludes & Fugues op. 87 by Shostakovich; he believes that he owed the invitation to Sviatoslav Richter who very much supported Woodward's early career. In 1975, there had never been a recording made of the complete cycle outside of what was then the Soviet Union. Woodward's version thus has the historic importance of being the first-ever complete recording outside the USSR; it is an unusually secure performance for a pianist of only 32 years of age at the time of the recording. There had of course been Shostakovich's own versions of some of the pieces of the cycle but the composer had pianistic limitations, and the recordings by his student Tatiana Nikolayeva were generally unavailable outside of the Eastern Bloc, this having been the time of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. The version by Sviatoslav Richter, recorded in 1961, was also widely available in the Soviet Union but hardly found in the West. The analogue tapes, recorded in London on an exceptionally fine Bösendorfer Imperial had long been thought to have been lost. For those listeners who prefer the analogue sound of a fine instrument, the reissue on Celestial Harmonies is a rare find, having been carefully restored for CD release by all available state-of-the-art technical means.

Roger Woodward was born in Sydney where he completed his studies at the local Conservatorium with Alexander Sverjensky; at the Music Department, University of Sydney and at the Chopin National Academy, Warsaw in the class of Zbigniew Drzewiecki. He rose to international prominence in prestigious collaborations with Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Toru Takemitsu, Richard Meale, Franco Donatoni, Leo Brouwer, Iannis Xenakis, Arvo Pärt, and has been recently working with Peter Michael Hamel, Hans Otte, Anne Boyd and Larry Sitsky. Such collaborations were recorded by the Australian ABC, BBC, French Radio and Television and by the EMI, Decca and RCA recording companies, to launch a major career as soloist with many of the world's leading orchestras including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, London Philharmonia and New York Philharmonic under such distinguished conductors as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Witold Rowicki and Kurt Masur, et al.

As a chamber musician he is the frequent partner of the Alexander String Quartet, with whom he performed the piano quintets of Brahms and Schumann in 2009 in New York and San Francisco and with whom he will perform the Dvoøák Piano Quintet in 2010. Their recording of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet for the FoghornClassics label received brilliant reviews. At the invitation of the late Sviatoslav Richter he also performed with the Arditti String Quartet at La Grange de Meslay, Tours, and he has frequently performed at Le festival d'automne à Paris and BBC Proms. In 2009, he premiered Of the Sound of Life (13256-2) (a sixty-five-minute collection of twelve etudes) by the contemporary German composer Peter Michael Hamel, at the Gasteig, Munich for the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. His recording of this work for Celestial Harmonies was greeted enthusiastically by the German critics as was his recording of Hans Otte's Book of Hours (13259-2).

In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious German Critics Prize for his Celestial Harmonies recording of the Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue and the Bach C-minor and E-minor Partitas (13280-2) and was a previous recipient of the Goethe Prize and Diapaison d'Or by German and French critics for recordings of works dedicated to him by Morton Feldman. Current recordings for Celestial Harmonies include the Chopin Nocturnes (14260-2); in 2009, the two books of Debussy Préludes (13279-2) were released to reviews that described Roger Woodward's performances as eclipsing those of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Celestial Harmonies issued both books of J.S. Bach's Das Wohltemperirte Clavier (19922-5) in Autumn 2009. In the same year, he recorded music by early twentieth-century Russian composers including works by Stanchinsky, Obukhov, Roslavets, Mosolov, Pasternak and Aleksandr and Julian Skryabin. He is an esteemed pedagogue in Europe and North America, frequent member of international competitions, is resident at the San Francisco State University, School of Music, recipient of the Polish Order of Merit, Chevalier of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and a Companion of the Order of Australia.

tracklist

  CD 1  
1 No. 1 in C 3’35"
2 No. 2 in A minor 2’00"
3 No. 3 in G 3’26"
4 No. 4 in E minor 5’30"
5 No. 5 in D 3’16"
6 No. 6 in B minor 4’47"
7 No. 7 in A 3’12"
8 No. 8 in F-Sharp minor 7’03"
9 No. 9 in E 3’56"
10 No. 10 in C-Sharp minor 6’23"
11 No. 11 in B 3’30"
12 No. 12 in G-Sharp minor 7’07"
  Total Time: 53'53"
  CD 2  
1 No. 13 in F-Sharp 6’57"
2 No. 14 in E-Flat minor 5’48"
3 No. 15 in D-Flat 4’51"
4 No. 16 in B-Flat minor 8’30"
5 No. 17 in A-Flat 5’10"
6 No. 18 in F minor 5’16"
7 No. 19 in E-Flat 4’01"
8 No. 20 in C minor 7’54"
9 No. 21 in B-Flat 3’45"
10 No. 22 in G minor 5’38"
11 No. 23 in F 5’13"
12 No. 24 in D minor 8’40"
  Total Time: 71'51"