Richard Bratby

Igor Levit deserved his standing ovation; Shostakovich, even more so

Plus: if you ignored the footnotes, there was a risk you might find this premiere from German modernist Helmut Lachenmann rather fun

Awe was certainly one response to Levit’s performance of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues at the Wigmore Hall. Image: Pepe Torres / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Music and politics don’t mix, runs the platitude. Looks a bit tattered now, doesn’t it? For Soviet musicians, of course, it wasn’t a question of whether you were interested in politics. Politics was unambiguously interested in you. Shostakovich wrote his 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano between 1950 and 1951, in the teeth of Stalin’s postwar crackdown, and in adopting the model of Bach, he seems to have been looking for a safe path forward: music that was politically neutral.

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