Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996) Piano Trio, Op.24 (1945) [32:03]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Piano Trio No.1 Op.8 (1923) [13:17]; Piano Trio No.2, Op.67 (1944) [28:17]
Trio Voce (Jasmine Lin (violin); Marina Hoover (cello); Patricia Tao (piano))
rec. 12-14 May 2010, WFMT Studios, Chicago, USA. DDD

Titled Inscapes this release contains both of Shostakovich’s piano trios plus the piano trio by his friend Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Making a sensible coupling Shostakovich’s trios are quite common on disc with Weinberg’s score considerably less so.

Weinberg is sometimes known as Moishe Vainberg or Moisey Vaynberg. As Polish-born Jews Weinberg’s immediate family perished in the Nazi Holocaust. Precariously having to keep one step ahead of his oppressors Weinberg always had to uproot. In 1943 at the behest of Shostakovich he ended up in Moscow. The Piano Trio, Op.24 is a product of his early years in Moscow and is regard by music writer David Berg in the booklet notes as a, “wartime masterpiece”.

An emotional roller-coaster of a score Weinberg’s Piano Trio, Op.24 is cast in four movements. It opens with a Präludium and Arie restless and disturbing movement of significant acidity. By 1:42 the mood has eased down to writing of an aching almost languid quality underpinned by an intermittent and uneasy mournful march for piano. The Toccata has a curt and detached quality with relentless, savage thrusts. Commencing with cold, remote and wary music the Poem movement alters at 1:03 to find a rhapsodic and predominantly relaxed vein. Around 4:44 the writing develops into a disagreeable and unsettling state of near frenzy. From 6:55 the storm clouds are blown away with a more relaxed mood. The Finale commences with a swirling world of bewilderment and anxiety. The underlying mood is like an impression of rootlessness; always on the move; always feeling fearful. Suddenly at 6:23 Weinberg alters the disposition but it is rather an indeterminate one. A clearer picture becomes more evident at 6:45 being reflective and appealing if remaining a touch vulnerable and lacking in assurance. At 9:59 the piano plays a chorale-like melody to provide a pseudo-religious conclusion.

Shostakovich was a favourite son of the Soviet regime before being heavily condemned in Pravda the newspaper that served as the official voice of the Soviet government. His first censure was in 1936 for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
The second rebuke was in 1948 when Shostakovich, together with a number of other composers were denounced for ‘formalism’; for writing music regarded as lacking in appeal for the masses.

Cast in a single movement Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.1, Op.8 was originally entitled ‘Poem’. A student work for the Leningrad Conservatoire from 1923 it was composed whilst Shostakovich was on vacation in the Crimea for a health cure. There the seventeen year old Shostakovich met and became infatuated with Tatyana Glivenko who was to be a feature of his life for almost a decade. The opening of the score feels like indoor music in an urban setting; certainly not evocative of the countryside. From 2:46 the general atmosphere becomes one of anxiety and then frenetic intensity. There are two passages (3:52-6:60 and 8:26-11:30) that interrupt the prevailing mood with music of gentle appeal though carrying a sorrowful undercurrent.

Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op.67 composed in 1944 followed on from the composition of his Symphony No. 8. The horrifying siege of Leningrad had ended but Shostakovich hadn’t returned from Moscow. It seems that the four movement score had been written in memory of a number of close friends that had died in the war; victims of the Holocaust and specifically the death of his friend the musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky. Shostakovich himself played the piano part at the score’s première in November 1944 at Leningrad. Eerie and bleak writing of an almost disembodied landscape launches the score. A sense of disconsolate brooding predominates perhaps reflecting the torments of the time. Sardonic in character, the short Scherzo is wild and relentless. Cast as a Passacaglia the Largo conveys a chill of heartfelt sadness. With strong elements of Jewish folk music the Finale is one of the most curious movements that the composer wrote. The music could almost feel genuinely humorous at times if the sarcasm wasn’t so heavy. Lying heavy on the listener is an underlying sense of contempt and disturbing bitterness. The music floats down gently to its close.

These are compelling and characterful performances evincing immense concentration by Trio Voce. A slightly rough edge suits these scores far better than smooth refinement. The playing has the spontaneity of live music-making. Recorded at the WFMT Studios in Chicago the sound is vividly clear and extremely well balanced. This excellent disc would prove an important addition to any serious collection of twentieth-century chamber music.

Michael Cookson

An important addition to any serious collection of twentieth-century chamber music.