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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, op.8
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 67
Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok, op. 127*
CD, Warner Classics

Beaux Arts Trio
Daniel Hope, violin
Antonio Meneses, cello
Menahem Pressler, piano

Joan Rodgers, soprano*
Recorded in Auer Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, 
Indiana 8-12 July 2005

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is now regarded as one of the musical giants to emerge from the Soviet Union. His style is diverse and unique, ranging from the near-‘cheesy’ style use for film music (think ‘Tea for Two’), to some of the deepest and most powerfully emotive works of the 20th century reflecting the struggle of the Russian people and for which he was at times persecuted by the Soviet authorities (for example, his 4th Symphony). He was born in St. Petersburg and as a child revealed himself as a prodigy, both in piano and composition. In 1922 at the age of just 16 he was accepted into the Petrograd Conservatory, then headed by Alexander Glazunov. His first symphony was composed on his graduation and throughout his life composed a further fourteen. The composer Gustav Mahler was a major influence, and this can be seen through his use of a vocalist in the 13th symphony and, indeed, his Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok.

The first piano trio was composed in 1923 but was only published after Shostakovich’s death. The work is dedicated to Tatyana Glivenko (for whom he had had an early love) and was first performed by Shostakovich and two of his friends who had apparently rehearsed in a cinema where their music had been used as an accompaniment for silent films. This element of film music may not have been conventional at the time, but can be believed. The work is a single movement, but covers several different characters, moods and styles, at times giving a glimmer of romantic film music as well as energy and drama.

The second piano trio is now more widely played and well known. It was composed between 1943 and 1944 (during the second World War) and begins with unusual harmonics from the cello and ends with what has been described in the inlay cover as “a gruesome dance of death; its quiet ending is the stillness of the mass grave”, and certainly reflects the composer’s feelings confronted with the death and anguish that surrounded him.

The Seven Romances were initially intended for the legendary cellist Rostropovich and his wife, the singer Galina Vishnevskaya, but the scoring soon expanded (although the instruments only play all together in the last movement). The work was composed after Shostakovich had a major heart attack in 1966.

The Beaux Arts Trio are an American Ensemble, having won the prize of “Music America’s Ensemble of the Year 1997,” and play throughout the CD with fantastic ensemble, variety of colour, intensity and are not afraid to make ‘nasty’ sounds when required (which can be quite often when playing Shostakovich). Joan Rodgers seems to show an equal understanding of this music. This CD is ideal for any Shostakovich fans. (M.North)

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