P0106. DMITRI SHOSTAKOVITCH: Shostakovitch Plays Shostakovitch. (Holland) EMI 754606, recorded 1958 & 1959. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 077775460629
“Dmitri Shostakovich began his career with hopes of becoming a professional pianist, and throughout his life he maintained a close association with the instrument. He enjoyed playing in private and in public, and recorded compositions of his own in the 1940s and 1950s….Yet, much of his piano music is not well known by the classical-buying public; and that applies whether we are referring to his various collections of epigrammatic character pieces or his two large-scale sonatas."
- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
“All Shostakovich's recordings are distinguished by his masterly technique and the clean, non-legato touch, which is wholly in keeping with the character of his music. Yet beautiful tone and broad cantilenas are also in evidence, notably…in some of the preludes and fugues. He never indulges in superficial effects for effect's sake. His playing conveys his compositional intentions with uncommon clarity and subtlety, and is in many respects individual and inspiring. It demonstrates the versatility of Shostakovich's exceptional talent, and earns him his place in the tradition of great pianism among major composers of our century: Rachmaninov, Bartók and Prokofiev….Within a few years [of Stalin’s arrival], Shostakovich...found himself forced to toe a musical party line and, worse, faced the possibility of total isolation, even execution, when the dictator stormed out of a theater, infuriated by his opera LADY MACBETH OF MTENSK. He managed to rehabilitate himself with the authorities but thereafter had to work under cover, composing formally-approved works, many of which contained hidden secondary meanings. Following the death of Stalin and the composer’s unquestioned international popularity, he remained at the forefront of Russian music but forever cautious, and it was probably only in his late years that he could compose without Soviet officialdom breathing down his neck.”
- Ned Ludd
“… as you know, Shostakovitch was vilified by Stalin for the opera LADY MACBETH and, while rehearsing the Fourth Symphony in Leningrad, decided to scrap it. I think he suffered very much. He must have felt he was a very talented man. He already had success and a certain recognition….Here is an individual who is suffering from the injustice of the world. It's not just a reaction to the world that is happening around him. It's already an inner problem which became one of his hallmarks.
But what is interesting to me is that it doesn't sound like self-pity, which you can find in Chekhov and Mahler for example. I don't find self-pity in Shostakovich. Although it is his torture, it becomes sublimated, totally transcended. It becomes the tragedy of an individual, not of Shostakovich but of an individual, a victim of the Soviet system….Along with his grotesque satire and disdain for the trivia around him, this is the strongest point of his greatest output. It is the tragedy and the darkness of the life of an individual within totalitarian oppression….You see, with the constant brainwashing of the propaganda in the Soviet Union it would have been difficult to remain sane for the sanest of people. It is very hard for you to conceive how it was, to be living in the former Soviet Union. A nightmare, really. You can become a schizophrenic, not in the fullest psychological sense perhaps, but in the sense that you try to retain your 'inner world' somehow and yet in public, in your daily work and relationships with other people, you have to be someone else. You can't really be yourself, you can't speak your mind. An idea... it has an imprint on almost everybody, and anybody. There must be some exceptions, I suppose, but not so many. I believe Solzhenitsyn is one of those who managed to fight and win, in a way, retaining his sanity. But people are different. Some very intelligent people, people of great integrity even, sometimes did succumb to the Soviet propaganda. Sometimes they became only fellow-travellers, sometimes even adherents of the Soviet system, believing sincerely that this system might have some future, in spite of the terror, the murders and the killings and so on. So therefore just to put a stamp on Shostakovich as an enigma is simplifying the thing. It is a case of a person with a great degree of awareness of life, with great gifts in his profession, great integrity as an individual - there is no question about that. He might have been influenced by the constant propaganda - not to the degree that he would approve, but to a degree where he could see enough hope that the system could somehow transform itself; that maybe all the sufferings would not be in vain. Seeing millions being killed in the camps, sometimes you might think 'Well, it's a terrible sacrifice, but maybe something will come out of it'. Imagine the psyche of a person like this. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt.
Who could not fail to see that the system didn't work? Yes, he wanted to pay his 'due' to the Party, for this they might leave him alone. It's like 'Newspeak', Orwell, '1984', and all that. You're one person with yourself, or with your closest friend, and you're not quite the same with other people, because you're afraid to be. Look at Gorbachev, for instance. He obviously wanted to change the country, no question about it. He knew the only way was to join the Party, to get to the top, if he's lucky, and then change things. Lots of people joined the Party in the last couple of decades for that same reason, because although they knew the country was going downhill, without going through the Party apparatus, nothing could ever be changed. Because the Party was the only instrument that could do anything. It had total authority. Finally, I'm happy to say, it happened . Gorbachev and these people....shifted the balance within the Party. Look at him….He couldn't escape his background and upbringing. Although his mind was going ahead, his background held him back. Naturally, Shostakovich is a much 'greater' individual than Gorbachev in the sense of awareness of life. But something must have had an effect on him, from what was around him. Maybe a part of him thought that something could be changed within the system. That's why I think some of the ‘Party pieces’ are not just paying off the Party, but express some hope too, if only a tiny percentage.”
- Vladimir Ashkenazy, interviewed by John Stratford & John Riley, October 1991, DSCH