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In Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto, says Alexander Melnikov, ‘everything is wrong, yet it is right’, whereas in the Second, ‘everything is right, yet it is wrong’. It is true that the First Concerto (1933), playful, experimental, flouts convention yet retains overall cohesion, and Melnikov conveys these qualities in an assured performance.

His understanding of the Second Concerto (1957) is more contentious: he sees its ‘almost populist simplicity’ as a facade, masking layers of irony and disquiet. Shostakovich’s own swashbuckling recording treats the concerto as a parody of populism – in the first movement’s cartoon-like velocities, for example, or the second movement’s pastiche of Romanticism: in contrast, Melnikov’s performance is very measured, perhaps aiming to tease out the serious subtexts by playing down the brash exterior. He uncovers a genuine poetry in the second movement, but loses most of the fun that Shostakovich’s frenetic panache imparted to the first.

The disc’s one undeniably serious work is the Violin Sonata (1968), one of those late pieces in which Shostakovich faced his mortality. This is closer to the private emotional world that Melnikov traversed so brilliantly in his much-admired recording of the Preludes and Fugues; here, partnered by the outstanding violinist Isabelle Faust, he brings a similar authority to the sonata’s terse, pensive discourse with death. It’s a riveting performance, intensely focused, with a heart-stopping reading of the last movement passacaglia that, as Melnikov says, ‘feels like the end of everything’.

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing