Debussy’s and Shostakovich’s Preludes performed at King’s Place

Katya Apekisheva

For the London Piano Festival at King’s Place, Katya Apekisheva and Noriko Ogawa presented a programme of 20th century preludes. 

Preludes are mostly associated with J.S. Bach and his masterly eighteenth-century Well Tempered Clavier, where the prelude and the accompanying fugue represented two short movements written in the same key.

Chopin rebranded the prelude and made it a stand-alone piece. Debussy’s dreamy preludes in 1900 took the musical genre to another impressionistic level. Shostakovich felt inspired to write twenty-four of them in rapid succession in the early 1930s.

I was looking forward to hearing Moscow-born Apekisheva play these particular preludes, written in the earlier part of his compositional career . They are unusual, consisting of deconstructed waltzes, tarantellas, can-can, foxtrot, toccata and fughetta and are highly rhythmic, ranging in mood, from jaunty, teasingly romantic, to more serious and even tragic in Prelude No 14, the funeral march. During Apekisheva’s performance I also discerned an operatic aria by Tchaikovsky and other sentimental songs from the era. 

It was extraordinary to hear all twenty-four preludes played in one go and the energy and concentration required by Apekisheva was evident. Her exacting, highly nuanced interpretation gave the entire work shape and meaning.

Noriko Ogawa

Noriko Ogawa displayed equal precision and mastery playing Debussy’s 12 Préludes. The preludes are a popular choice on the concert circuit and for good reason as they fizz with inventiveness and allow the listener to dream. The wind ripples in trills and rubato effects in Voiles, or rumbles and crescendos in Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest. Ogawa’s play was precise and her style elegant, as her hands moved lightly and with great economy over the keyboard. Most impressive was her interpretation of Debussy’s fantastical La cathédrale engloutie, with its ghostly reverberating “organ” chords as the undersea cathedral rose from the depths of the ocean. Finally, Ministrels which attested to Debussy’s interest in music hall, stayed in my head for days!

This was inspiring programming, illustrating not only Debussy’s and Shostakovich’s contrasting styles but also the musical possibilities of the bite-sized prelude.


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