Shostakovich - Piano Trios

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DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 8 - Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 - Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op. 127 - The Florestan Trio - Susan Gritton (Soprano) - 034571178349 - Released: May 2011 - Hyperion CDA67834

As always, the Florestan Trio bring their precision and level headed approach to the table, in this their final studio recording as a chamber ensemble. They will disband at the end of this year, to follow individual pursuits. This new recording closes the book on 16 years of devotion to the piano trio repertoire, and countless awards and nominations for flawless recordings covering works from Haydn to Martinu and everything in between, with particularly impressive readings of the Beethoven and Dvorak trios. What better choice for their final word on the matter, than the two Dmitri Shostakovich Piano Trios. Without a doubt some of the greatest 20th century essays on the subject.

While convalescing at the age of 16 from an operation brought on by tuberculosis, Shostakovich composed his Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8, a work that was used as his entrance card to the Moscow Conservatory only a year later. Although very much concerned with form and structure over emotionally overt discourse, it already contained the seeds of what was to follow and flourish into some of the greatest music and emotional outcry of the 20th century. The Florestan Trio bring to it an elegance and na´vetÚ often overlooked in other interpretations.

Fast forward 20 years to 1944, and the innocence has been replaced by fear and horror. His Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67 was dedicated to a writer and close friend who died in February of that year. But it could also be considered a memorial to the millions of Russians who had lost their lives during the war. It opens with some of the bleakest music ever put to paper by Shostakovich, and anybody else for that matter. In fact, the whole work is a whirlwind of varying emotions that in typical Shostakovich fashion, range from the solemn to the ridicule. All three instrumentalists here do their best to outplay each other in the whimsical and spiky second movement, while the following Largo movement demands from them the utmost in sustained concentration and stoic momentum, and the Florestan members do more than oblige. They also make easy work of the final movement and well expose its blend of mockery and despair.

Fast forward another 20 odd years to 1967, and while convalescing from a heart attack, Shostakovich composed the Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op. 127. A work written for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich at his request for a piece of music that he and his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, could perform together. What started out as a piece for voice and cello, quickly evolved into a much more complex work for soprano and chamber ensemble. The songs are based on the poems of Alexander Blok and circle around the subject of human tragedy, and dark and mysterious dreams. Subjects all too familiar to the composer. The writing for the instruments is always minimal which always focuses the attention on the voice. This group of songs demands versatility and extremes in emotional projection from the vocalist, and soprano Susan Gritton more than complies and delivers a captivating account of these late works by Shostakovich.

A recording to cherish then from a trio of musicians who, from one recording to the next, have always played to the highest standards. May their individual musical journeys lead to even higher milestones.

Jean-Yves Duperron - June 2011