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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH ( 1906-75)

Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 (1944)
Kaja Danczowska (violin)
Dorota Imielowska (cello)
Mariola Cieniawa (piano)
Recorded in the Concert Hall, ‘Florianka’, Cracow, Poland, June 1999.
CD ACCORD ACD 128-2 [57:38]

Mendelssohn strove to reconcile the classical heritage of the 18th century with the romantic mood of his own personality. He left only two piano trios but it is known that before he was eleven years old he wrote another which has since been lost. There are letters that indicate that the genre attracted him far more than his two surviving contributions would indicate. During a visit to Paris when he was 23, he wrote to his sister Fanny of his intention to write another piano trio. It was not until 1839 that he actually composed his first Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49.

The D minor work was an immediate success and has proved to be one of his most popular scores ever since. Composer Robert Schumann was captivated by the work and in his capacity as a music journalist he wrote at length in a review of 1840:-

"It is necessary to say but little of Mendelssohn’s trio since it must be in everyone’s hands. It is the master trio of today as in their day were those of Beethoven in B-Flat and D; as was that of Franz Schubert in E-Flat; indeed a lovely composition which years from hence will still delight grand- and great-grand children .... He has raised himself so high that we can indeed say he is the Mozart of the nineteenth century; the most brilliant among musicians; the one who has most clearly recognized the contradictions of the time, and the first to reconcile them .... So let the new work have its effect everywhere, as it should have, and prove anew to us the artistic power of its creator. This now appears to be in fullest flower."

In well-balanced proportions the four movement work is exquisite and remains the most admired of Mendelssohn’s two piano trios. It has an abundance of charm and aesthetic appeal that has maintained its eminent status in the chamber music repertoire. He was careful to involve all of the participants equally in the D minor work. However in the presentation and development of the thematic material it is the piano which is granted the most brilliant of the three parts. In the original version of the work the piano part was considerably more subdued. In later years Mendelssohn undertook a revision at the urging of his friend, the composer and conductor Ferdinand Hiller, who encouraged him to incorporate some of the advanced technical devices of Liszt and Chopin the better to display the skill of the pianist.

The Polish-based trio of Danczowska, Imielowska and Cieniawa give a high class performance of the Mendelssohn score and one has a sense of collective music making and sheer enjoyment. Fluid and passionate playing is the order of the day without ever any hint of loss of control. I was especially impressed with the playing in the demanding and sparkling yet porcelain-like third movement scherzo; just the right amount of care and delicacy.

The Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor Op. 67, Shostakovich’s second piece in the genre, was created amongst the turmoil of war in 1944 while he was holidaying at the Soviet composers’ resort in Ivanovo. Although far from the front-line, Shostakovich was haunted by the images of war. As well as being distressed by the death in action of his young Jewish protégée Benjamin Fleischmann, who was Shostakovitch’s most promising student at the Leningrad Conservatory, the composer was devastated by the death of his closest friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, from a heart attack in 1944. The Trio is dedicated to Sollertinsky and was finished in the autumn of 1944, together with the String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68. The première was entrusted to the Beethoven Quartet, although the famous trio of Leo Oborin, David Oistrakh and Svyatoslav Knushevitsky tried hard to obtain the right. The world première performance took place on 14 November 1944 in Leningrad and was one of the first concerts after the city’s terrible 900 day siege. Shostakovich on piano was accompanied by violinist Dmitri Tsyganov and cellist Vasil Shirinsky.

The E minor Piano Trio has become recognised as one of the masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire. Unlike the Mendelssohn work this trio cannot be expected to, "delight successive generations of music lovers". Its four movements leave the listener with a lump in the throat and a long uncomfortable silence before the ovation.

Danczowska, Imielowska and Cieniawa give a powerful reading with a firm conviction that helps to communicate the work’s elegiac character. The brooding mood and contrasting emotional colours of the opening movement andante are displayed most effectively as is the despairingly wild conclusion to the allegro. Shostakovich wrote the final two movements to be played without a pause to form a single entity. Our players are suitably moving in the largo and offer the appropriate amount of sorrowful undercurrent which lies beneath the folk dance character of the allegretto.

These finely shaped and blended performances with a high quality of tone are well worth hearing. The recorded sound from the Polish label CD Accord is of a good standard with concise and informative annotation. This fine account of the Mendelssohn stands shoulder to shoulder with the highly-rated versions by the Gould Piano Trio on Naxos 8.555063 and Trio de Barcelona on Harmonia Mundi HMT 7901335. In the Shostakovich I cannot recommend any version other than the outstanding account from the Borodin Quartet on a marvellous value double from Teldec Ultima 8573-87820-2. This is coupled with the Piano Quintet and the First and Fifteenth String Quartets.

Michael Cookson

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