Notes and Editorial Reviews
Holy cow! This is some terrific chamber music playing! In fact, there is no finer version available of Shostakovich's epic and tragic Op. 67. Trio Wanderer plays with totally idiomatic intensity and grit, managing climaxes of almost unbearable impact without compromising ensemble cohesion or real tonal warmth. Cellist Rapaël Pidoux handles the opening harmonics as well as anyone ever has, and the elegiac opening leads to a positively ferocious scherzo, almost a miniature of that of the Tenth Symphony (the notes point out that the correct tempo for this movement should be Allegro con brio, and not the slower Allegro ma non troppo of earlier printed editions).
Vincent Cog excellently times the distance between the solemn chords that open the third-movement passacaglia, creating just the right doom-laden atmosphere. But the players save the best for last, a finale that builds to the most impressive climax of this work on disc. So many performances either rush, peak too early, or degenerate into sheer vulgarity; but here a naturally flowing tempo allied to impressively long-breathed phrasing allows the music to build effortlessly to its shattering culmination. The return of the first movement's opening tune on solo violin under rippling piano arpeggios truly has the heartbreaking, cathartic effect that Shostakovich intended. This is simply magnificent.
The couplings are hardly less impressive. Shostakovich's youthful First Trio benefits from Trio Wanderer's freshness and precision as well as from its keen ability to project the music's single-movement form in boldly articulated paragraphs. Choosing Aaron Copland's Trio Vitebsk as the coupling was an inspired idea: a single-movement work like Shostakovich's First Trio, it's also based on a Jewish tune, just like the Second Trio. Indeed, played with such lacerating precision it sounds remarkably like Shostakovich, with Pidoux once again offering some particularly outstanding moments. But then, this is very much an equal effort all around, immeasurably enhanced by sonics that practically define the state of the art in terms of warmth, clarity, and impact. This is clearly the new reference recording for all three works, bar none. [6/8/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Full review from FANFARE Magazine:
According to Shostakovich’s younger sister, Zoya, in an interview recounted in Elizabeth Wilson’s
Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, the composer was insanely busy at the time of his first trio’s composition. He and two friends only found time to practice the work by playing it as an accompaniment to silent films (which was Shostakovich’s job at the time). Modernist silent film scores were not unheard of, but one wonders what the St. Petersburg audiences must have made of the trio’s unprecedented slashing satire. The surprisingly romantic theme that appears at roughly 4:30 minutes may be seen as the Conservatory’s influence, where Shostakovich was still studying at the time, but it could just as easily point to the dedicatee of the trio: Tatyana Glivenko, with whom the composer enjoyed a love affair that deepened after their respective marriages into a lengthy and sincere friendship.
The circumstances surrounding the genesis of the second trio were entirely different. Youthful enthusiasm had given way to both paranoia in the face of official sanctions and horror at the brutality of war. Although the liner notes mention that it was dedicated to Ivan Sollertinsky, who had just died, they neglect to mention that the work was begun while he was still living. The despair revealed in the trio may thus be tied to the demise of Sollertinsky—brilliant, witty, a malicious gossip, and an unswerving supporter of the composer for nearly two decades—but it could just as easily be an expression of universal loss.
Concerning Copland, a couple of years ago I heard several music critics discussing his music on the BBC. One of them observed that it was startling how ceremonial and utterly devoid of private emotion all of it was. She really should have known better.
Our Town has cathartic immediacy, and
Quiet City is as expressive as anyone could wish—to mention two of Copland’s well-known works. But in general, the composer reserved his most richly emotional art for chamber venues, and most of it is seldom heard.
Vitebsk is such a piece. The Jewish song that forms its basis is given a treatment of searing intensity. It leaves no doubts about Copland’s capabilities in this direction.
When I first listened to the Trio Wanderer on this recording, I admit to being surprised. The young musicians depicted on the back cover of the insert notes uncannily reproduced the lean unison playing and incisive attacks of the old Janáèek Quartet (with pianist Eva Bernathova), some of whose recordings were probably issued before the Trio Wanderer’s members were born. Here was no superficially pretty sound, but a wiry intensity suited to the latter Shostakovich and Copland works.
Typical is the Allegro con brio movement of Shostakovich’s second trio, played here at its original, slightly slower
Allegro ma non troppo—dampening the sheer exhilaration, and leaving enough breathing space to provide extra accents and details to the phrasing that undercut the glittering surface. The reason for the inauspicious tempo marking change, according to violinist Rotislav Dubinsky of the original Borodin Quartet (with whom the Trio Wanderer studied), was an anxiousness on the part of Shostakovich to lessen the work’s atmosphere of bitterness and despair. By comparison, the Stockholm Arts Trio (Naxos 8.553297) is faster, less biting, and more streamlined in this movement. I can understand why this cooler interpretation would appeal to an increasingly agitated Shostakovich as Stalin’s apparatchiks began their post-WW II purges, but the original makes better musical sense in the context of the trio’s surrounding movements.
Appropriately enough, the first Shostakovich trio is given a warmer, more traditional treatment, though one that doesn’t neglect its incipient sarcasm. All three musicians display excellent technique, and a thorough sense of musical engagement with their peers. With forward and balanced engineering and fine liner notes, this is one of the better releases of Shostakovich’s chamber music to come along in a while.
Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Vitebsk by Aaron Copland
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1929; USA
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