Ever since hearing him guest conduct the Cleveland Orchestra almost 30 years ago, I have been an Ashkenazy devotee, and have collected a number of his recordings as conductor and/or pianist. Everything he does oozes musicality, genuineness, and quality. He performs without fear, yet without overdoing dynamics or drawing attention to his virtuosity. He seems to disappear for a while into the mind of the composer, finally coming out on the other side with a deep breath and a smile. This performance, recorded in the fairly reverberant yet intimate Potton Hall studio in 2003, is no exception. It is full of the typical Shostakovich cleverness and iconoclasm, alternating with passages of deep contemplation. Ashkenazy navigates these mood swings with confidence and respect.
I have a tiny quibble with the ordering of the tracks. When the Sonata No. 2 ends, the listener does not have time to digest the fact. It either should have been made the last piece on the disc, or given a few more seconds of silence before the start of the next track. This has long been a peeve of mine when substantial pieces are presented early on a CD, but it's a little more glaring in this case because the sonata ends not with a fortissimo flourish, but by tapering down to a point. The unconventional ending demands a period of silence, and we are not given that silence.
The audio quality (I'm basing this off listening to the 2-channel SACD mix) is simply like being there.
This disc quickly became one of the treasures of my music collection, and if you are a fan of Ashkenazy, Russian music, or just good piano music, I'm sure you will love it too.