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Shostakovich & Schnittke. The Piano Trios
Vienna Piano Trio
Nimbus NI 5572 69'. 00"

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This CD brings together the splendid Piano Trio Op. 67 of Shostakovich with two rarities. His first piano trio, Op. 8 (1923) is an impressive example of what this precocious composer was able to do when he was 16. It was written whilst he still had traditional, romantic inclinations and before he had fully committed himself to the modernism which characterised most of his music in the 1920s. It is in a single substantial movement (13 mins) with an andante beginning, an intense rhapsodic second subject, and a lyrical cello theme to complete its source material. Well worth including here.

The Second Piano Trio of 1944 is a major work, commemorating a close friend of the young Shostakovich, and with powerful Jewish allusions reflecting his active opposition to anti-Semitism. The slow passacaglia is an expression of deep grief. The finale is said to incorporate a grotesque dance alluding to Jews being forced to dance on their own graves at Treblinka. There is a cyclical element linking the four movements of this half-hour masterpiece.

Schnittke's Piano Trio (1985/92) is a reworking of his scarifying String Trio, which threatens to burst the bounds of that medium. There are two movements sharing similar material, simple but treated with extreme dissonance. There are characteristic veiled allusions to other composers, not overt quotations though. Schnittke seems to be trying to reconcile conflicting extremes in this work, which was also arranged as his Trio Sonata for Chamber Orchestra (1987). I prefer the original string trio version, but both these are well worth knowing also.

A fascinating recital, brilliantly played and faithfully recorded.


Peter Grahame Woolf

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