Dmitri Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87. Jenny Lin, piano. ©2009 Hänssler Classic, Germany, 2 CD set No. 98.530 (duration 74:40/ 66:43; $37.99). Available at ArkivMusic.com
Dmitri Shostakovich was moved, enchanted, and perhaps mesmerized by the young Tatiana Nikolayeva's performance of J.S.Bach. Later to become a life-long friend and a successful concert pianist, Nikolayeva played for the Russian composer each of his own paired miniatures, ink still wet on the page. Just two years after being denounced by the dictatorship, Shostakovich must have felt a surge of artistic energy to produce such a collection of masterpieces. He was the first to play the Preludes and Fugues, but it was Nikolayeva's 1952 performance that catapulted the works into public view. Jenny Lin's recording captures the sensitive, nuanced touch of the young Russian protégé and with the security of a seasoned performer.
Born in Taiwan and raised in Austria, Lin brings a broad perspective to the works. In addition to her extensive study of the piano, she holds a bachelors degree in German Literature from Johns Hopkins. During an interview with Joel Meyer (WNYC: Soundcheck, 15 July, 2009) she playfully said, "I might have been Russian in my past life." Indeed, her understanding is deep and her performance, magnificent. A champion of new music and sought after performer, she has an impressive discography, including the complete works of Ruth Crawford Seeger.
Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues reflect the artistry of a master and reveal, poignantly, the inner sanctum of a composer held in check by political terror. Walking a tightrope held taut by proletarian status quo and powerful tyrants, his musical language, considered "formalist" by the state-sanctioned Composers' Union and criticized by Westerners as old-fashioned, is anything but radical. (The Weberian-like Fugue in D-flat might be considered an exception.) But music lovers shouldn't be put off by old rhetoric. This is Shostakovich at his best. And though he adheres to the rules of counterpoint, Shostakovich's rarefied voice is ever present.
Jenny Lin's playing is impeccable. She summons the essence, the emotional underpinnings of each of the twenty-four pairs as if they were identifiable musical vignettes. Illuminating subtle changes of exquisitely constructed contrapuntal lines, she uncovers the beauty of Shostakovich's work. From playful (the Fugue in D) to outbursts of anger (as in the Fugue in B-flat), she paints evocative images. And with measured control of the tempo and dynamic level, she recreates the ruminating sadness in the Prelude in G minor. Lin dazzles the listener with virtuosity at every turn, including the manic tempo of the Prelude in B-flat and the glorious finale, the Fugue in D minor.
More than a tribute to Bach, the Preludes and Fugues are testament of fortitude and strength of an artist trapped in the quivering body of man living through one of the cruelest of human epochs. While debate about Shostakovich's allegiance will likely never be truly resolved, the dust will eventually settle and his work will speak for itself. And like Tatiana Nikolayeva's, Jenny Lin's recording of this beautiful music will inspire those who listen.