RACHMANINOV; ARENSKY; SHOSTAKOVICH; MUSSORGSKY Piano Trios
Ever since Glinka’s Trio pathétique of 1832, Russian composers have associated the piano trio with elegy, among them Arensky for the cellist Karl Davydov, Tchaikovsky for Nikolay Rubinstein, Rachmaninov twice (including once for Tchaikovsky), Shostakovich for his friend Ivan Sollertinsky. Three of these works are represented here. Rachmaninov’s First, though not for Tchaikovsky, nevertheless has beautiful, long-drawn melodies he might well have admired, though they are rather smothered under the rich piano textures, a problem in much of Rachmaninov, however skilfully the balance is managed here. Arensky’s own melodic gift is well brought out in his grieving, eloquently played Adagio for Davydov, and the players tackle the lively if somewhat repetitious Scherzo with great spirit.
In the absence of Tchaikovsky here, it can safely be said that the masterpiece is Shostakovich’s remarkable work of 1944, mourning not only his friend but more widely the Jewish people – knowledge of the death camps was only then just reaching Moscow. The difficult opening, with eerie high notes on the cello, is beautifully managed, with the ambiguous Scherzo brilliant but sinister. The pace is properly steady to allow the chaconne full expression; and with the finale, the ostensibly happy strumming of a Jewish klezmer band is made to sound dark and maimed. The dignified close, in this impassioned, thoughtful performance, is controlled and expressive, with a closing mood of, if not peacefulness, at least resignation. The final addition to the recital of Mussorgsky’s late piano piece ‘Une larme’ may seem a neat programme idea but cannot help being an anticlimax.