Echoes Of War
Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 24 (1945) [30:21]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 (1944) [26:50]
rec. 2019, SWR Funkstudio, Stuttgart
GENUIN GEN19678 [57:15]
In listening to the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2, I was reminded of an old psychiatric term: “overdetermined” or a symptom that has more than one cause. This term could broadly be applied to the origins of Shostakovich’s trio. Shostakovich began the piece in 1944 and had completed two movements, full of his feelings about the war and the ongoing siege of Leningrad, when he learned of the death of his closest friend, the musicologist Ivan I. Sollertinsky. This made the piece more personal, a factor only augmented by the death of one of Shostakovich’s favorite pupils, Veniamin Fleischman fighting before Leningrad. All of these influences are present in the four movements of the trio, one of the composer’s most searing chamber works.
The trio begins with keening on the cello before the entry of the main theme on the piano. This is comprehensively developed and combined with one of the composer’s Jewish folk-style themes as the second subject before the movement finally dies away. The short scherzo is lively but somewhat manic, but with the largo movement the War becomes manifest, with repeated piano chords supporting lamenting string music before dying away into the final movement. Here the Jewish folk theme becomes a “dance of death”, as more than one commentator has put it, accompanied by hollow piano chords and combining with themes from the previous movements. Sadness follows and the music softens but the dance of death begins again before the music returns to the trio’s beginning. This trio could be said to be a musical counterpart to Munch’s famous painting “The Scream”.
Like the Shostakovich, Weinberg’s Piano Trio is a product of the War, with the additional element that at the time of its composition Weinberg had only recently fled the Nazis from his native Poland to Russia [see link]. The opening Prelude is dramatic, almost inspiring, but with the Aria we are in territory already familiar from the Shostakovich first movement, but Weinberg’s music becomes progressively starker and sparer before a final pizzicato. The Toccata, with its slashing piano chords, seems unstoppable, providing a perfect contrast to the opening of the Poem which follows. This is portentous and threatening, with more slashing piano chords followed by the cello and violin moving to a passionate but disturbing central section before the return of the opening piano chords. Weinberg’s last movement, is fugal, increasing, like Shostakovich’s, to a wild dance, eventually combined with music from other movements.
Since 1952 the various German radio stations have sponsored the ARD competition, an international event that has helped launch may prominent musicians and ensembles. The Genuin label has, in the last few years enabled ARD prize-winners of their choice to record a disc free of charge. This year was the Trio Marvin’s turn. The members of the Trio Marvin - Vita Kan (piano), Marina Grauman (violin), and Marius Urba (cello) - are all fine instrumentalists in their own right, especially Urba (who is much to the fore in both trios), but it is their ensemble work that is of interest here and it is easy to see why they won their ARD prize. The Marvins are not only fluently integrated but possess a power and drive that that perfectly fits the music of Shostakovich and Weinberg. They are greatly aided by fine recording and by the acoustic of the Stuttgart SWR studio. The Marvins indicate in their notes that they are especially interested in music of the former Soviet Union (quite evident on this disc) and it is to be hoped that they will record other works from this repertoire.