Three Pieces (Minuet, Prelude, and Intermezzo) (1919-1920)
CD: Shostakovich: Piano Sonata No. 2, etc., Konstantin Scherbakov, piano (Naxos 8.570092)
Even more so than the F-sharp minor scherzo, this incomplete set of piano pieces sounds like a relic of Shostakovich’s musical education. The three pieces run about three minutes in total. The Minuet is a very brief exercise in classical style; the Prelude, while similarly uneventful, creates a gently mysterious atmosphere that’s more evocative than the pieces bookending it. The Intermezzo, which Shostakovich didn’t complete, features an upward-leaping figure that lends it a little character but otherwise remains an unmemorable sketch.
The only event worth singling out comes at about the halfway point of the Minuet, when a rising, three-note gesture perks up over a pulsing accompaniment. For a couple of bars, the music seems almost poised to jump into one of the spry melodic episodes that, to me, characterize his first symphony, but the anticipation quickly evaporates:
Scherbakov, who includes these pieces in his survey of Shostakovich’s solo piano work on Naxos, renders them with more attentiveness than most comparable student works will ever get. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers most recently popularized the idea that a person needs about 10,000 hours to master a skill; here is evidence of Shostakovich, still in his early teenage years, putting in his time.