Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues - Minnaar

Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues - Minnaar

Challenge Classics  CC 72907 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental

Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues

Hannes Minnaar (piano)

After Bach's Goldberg Variations, which won him worldwide honours (including a Diapason d'Or), Hannes Minnaar challenges and confronts what has become a 'classic' of the 20th century repertoire: Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, composed in 1951. Here again, the qualities of his pianism, for which he is recognised as one of the leading musicians of our time, come under the spotlight: the diversity of touch and the suppleness between tension and tranquillity to characterise every Prelude and Fugue, the precision of tone, the lack of any affectation, a natural finesse in phrasing and articulation, and a familiarity with the score going hand in hand with a freshness that conjures a sense of improvisation. Here we encounter a new landmark in the crowded field of interpretations of this wonderful music.

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Comments (3)

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - September 18, 2022 (1 of 3)

The album is due for release on September 22 per the Challenge Records website. Sample tracks are available at Presto and Challenge Records. I'm very much looking forward to this release. The low-res samples are just a glimpse into the recording. I'm hooked. I'll likely download the DXD (24/352.8) 5.1 version from Bert van Der Wolf's website, Spirit of the Turtle (

As I wait for the release, I looked over his revamped website. There is a lot of very interesting commentary about his recording process and equipment.
-- He is now offering Auro 3D downloads (5.1 +4) for a total of 10 channels. The files are 24/96 with the 4 height channels encoded into the 5 main surround channels. These albums will play normal 5.1 or for folks with Auro 3D equipped processors, the full 10 channels. At the moment, I am not a fan of Auro 3D for music.
-- Of more interest to me, is Bert's use of "Boundary Layer microphones" (BLM) which he developed with "Sonodore microphones". Essentially, these microphones can better receive "ambient" sounds during a recording session and are mixed to the rear channels of a 5.1 surround system. He says the SPL of the rear speakers can be increased without competing with the frontal soundstage. I tried this with a couple of his recent recordings and, in my system, it's true. My rear surrounds have always been problematic if too loud. I find Bert's recordings reduce if not eliminate this issue. The whole article is very informative: (

Edit: This is probably as good a place as any to describe my system:
-- Up front are three Spatial Audio Lab X3 open baffle speakers
-- Two rear SVS Ultra bookshelf speakers
-- Two SVS SB Ultra 13 subwoofers
-- Music server USB to ExaSound S88 surround DAC
-- DAC XLR to Parasound Halo A52+ amplifier
-- JRiver media Center music player with convolution filters (developed by Mitch Barnett, Accurate Sound)

I'll add my thoughts on the album once I get it and give it a listen.


Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - September 24, 2022 (2 of 3)

Time now to dive into this recording and offer my thoughts. There's not many SACD recording but competition is fierce in RBCD. The most notable is Tatiana Nikolayeva's several recorded performances. The liner notes to her RBCD 1990 recording (Hyperion, DA66441/3), available free as a download in pdf format (, describes her association with Shostakovich as he was writing the piece. Her recordings are considered the benchmark. A more recent, and highly acclaimed, RBCD recording is Igor Levit's performance recorded in May, 2020, (SONY 19439809212). This is a massive recording spanning three CDs for a full 232:41 minutes. Aside from the Preludes and Fugues, the CDs also include Ronald Stevenson's Passacaglia. Great praise is given to the Levit recording by David McDade, Music Web International ( He writes, "Nikolayeva gives us a much more familiar picture of Shostakovich where Levit finds greater light and shade; his Shostakovich even smiles and not just in a sarcastic grimace. Nikolayeva’s humour is flatter and more caustic. The two sets complement each beautifully, yet I imagine Levit’s will win over more listeners new to the music. Ideally, I would say any listener needs to hear both but if pushed to choose just one, it would be Levit." Levit's CDs are available at Presto as CD, LP and download (

What about the Minnaar recording? There are no reviews yet. I downloaded the multichannel DXD 24/352.8 version from Spirit of the Turtle website. Disc 1 is 73:01 minutes and disc 2 is 77:31 minutes. I've listened to both CDs a couple of times now (an advantage of retirement). The sonics, as usual from Bert van Der Wolf, are superb. I will note that Minnaar played on a Steinway Model D rather than his Chris Maene Straight Strung Concert Grand. I suspect logistics played a role here. The venue was Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, MCO-1, Hilversum. Recording dates were 22-24 December 2021 (Preludes and Fugues Nos. 1-12) & 1-3 May 2022 (Preludes and Fugues Nos. 13-24). Each piano note is clear and wholesome. Many times he will hold the final note for a long time allowing it to naturally fade. Soundstage was broad and deep presenting a concert grand into my listening room.

The liner notes include an interview style commentary.

-- What does the work mean to you? Why do you enjoy performing it?
"I first heard this music at the age of fifteen when I saw a TV documentary in which Vladimir Ashkenazy played one of the pieces. It really touched a chord with me. I had been obsessed with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier for some time, and I was immediately fascinated by this twentieth-century variant. Over the years, I’ve frequently returned to this work, and each time, I’ve been struck by the madness and loneliness it contains."

-- A continuous series of preludes and fugues could become a bit monotonous for the listener. But when I heard you play these pieces, I noticed that with each new piece, a whole new world opened up.
"That’s exactly what Shostakovich was going for. When I started to perform the work in concert, I briefly wondered whether it might end up being too much of the same. But the movements are all so different. Plus there’s the alternation between major and minor."

I concur. I was not bored at all and enjoyed each piece. As you progress through the music there is great variety. Of course, you have to love solo piano works. I'll be very interested in professional reviews, especially comparing Minnaar's performance with the Levit recording. I've watched several of Minnaar's videos and I can see great emotion in his mannerisms and facial expressions as he plays. This emotion translates into his playing and impresses me greatly.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Willem - October 5, 2022 (3 of 3)

Note that a special 3D binaural rendering can be downloaded from the labels site With headphones (of course) this gives you a concert hall impression, with the piano and stage somewhat in front of you.