24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87

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Hannes Minnaar proposed a plan to release a CD of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues back when he was recording Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2020. With Bach’s pure music fresh in his mind, Minnaar says his thoughts naturally turned to this work by the Russian composer.

That is not as strange as it may sound, though, despite the two hundred years separating these compositions. Both, after all, inhabit their own distinct universe of polyphonic music.

‘I’ve always found polyphony interesting,’ Minnaar admits. ‘All the notes have meaning within it. You can’t leave out a single note, since something would be missing in one of the musical lines. Romantic music is always a bit more arbitrary in that sense. And even though Shostakovich wrote very different music from that of Bach, it holds enormous appeal for me.’

Like so many composers, Shostakovich spent his life studying Bach’s oeuvre. By 1934, he had already composed his 24 Preludes, Op. 34 in every key. Shostakovich considered the series of fugues he had started work on at the same time (only the one in A minor would ultimately be included in Op. 87) as compositional exercises. A large-scale prelude and fugue also happen to make up the opening to the Piano Quintet, Op. 57, which dates from 1940.

Shostakovich would again delve deep into Bach’s work in 1950, when he sat on the jury of the International Bach Competition in Leipzig marking the two hundredth anniversary of the composer’s death. The winner was the Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, who knew all the preludes and fugues making up Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by heart. So inspired was Shostakovich that he had composed his 24 Preludes and Fugues just four and a half months after having returned to Moscow.

From the booklet notes by Sandra Kooke, translated by Josh Dillon/Muse Translations

‘Never has a pianist impressed me so much with the ability to keep each voice in a fugue—or in a prelude—separate, to give it its own character and tone. If I had to pare down my Shostakovich albums to one performance per opus, this just might be the one I’d keep.‘

American Record Guide

‘Hannes Minnaar engages an authoritative objectivity in running the ever-surprising gamut of moods in this colossal achievement... While the toccata brilliance of the minute-ish long A minor and B flat major Preludes is crisp and even, Minnaar doesn’t stint on the violence, either.‘

BBC Music Magazine 5/5*

‘Minnaar’s adroitness in the most virtuoso pieces is matched by his patient expressivity in the more brooding ones. He is prepared to take his time, but he does so judiciously, never for the sake of his own glory, always in sympathy with the music’s humane voice.‘


‘No staticity, but an almost hypnotic control of rhythm and vibration, a keen sense of chiaroscuro combined with a clarity, an equality of weight, even a winged heaviness (alla Pollini playing the last Beethoven) that becomes almost unbearable in the grandiose and heartbreaking Prelude and Fugue in D minor...‘

Diapason, 5/5*

‘Fabulously detailed, lively, curious playing. Minnaar makes these pieces twitch and glow with life under his fingers, and there's a sense of spontaneity...‘

BBC Radio 3 Record Review

‘He delivers the varied movements of the extensive, kaleidoscopic composition with suppleness, in supreme concentration, almost sober without frills, but also with depth, optimism, gloom, strength and subtlety. A top performance.‘

Pianist 10/10

‘The great strength of this recording by Hannes Minnaar is the naturalness with which he switches between the various styles and moods. (...) In parody and humor too, Minnaar shows himself to be a master in balancing expression and aesthetic feeling.‘

Volkskrant 4/5*

‘New tour de force by pianist Hannes Minnaar. In 2,5 hours he explores all steps of the scale and the human mind.‘

NRC, #2 in Dutch album top 25 of 2022