“Inscapes” = MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG: Piano Trio, Op. 24; SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8; Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67 – Trio Voce – Con Brio Recordings

by | Feb 18, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Inscapes” = MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG: Piano Trio, Op. 24; SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8; Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67 – Trio Voce – Con Brio Recordings CBR21045, 73:43 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

While Shostakovich’s great Second Trio has been recorded as often as some of his more popular symphonies, and while Weinberg’s remarkable Trio is finally getting its due on disc, it appears that Trio Voce is ahead of the curve in offering the two together with Shostakovich’s precocious First Trio. This makes for an ample and in every other way desirable program. Luckily, Trio Voce’s performances are fine ones, though with some sixty or seventy versions of the Shostakovich Trio No. 2 available, every Shostakovich enthusiast will probably have one or more (maybe several) recordings already on his/her shelves.

Miecyslaw Weinberg was once little more than a name and a reputation in the West, but now many of his orchestral and chamber works are available; if you don’t know his music, it’s certainly worth investigating. He entered the Warsaw Conservatory at age twelve, graduating in 1939, a bad year to be launching a career. A Polish Jew, Weinberg wisely fled Warsaw for Minsk before the Nazi onslaught. After being evacuated to Tashkent following the invasion of Russia in 1941, he finally moved to Moscow at Shostakovich’s bidding. The two remained friends and colleagues for the remainder of Shostakovich’s life.

Weinberg’s debt to Shostakovich is often remarked; it’s most obvious in Weinberg’s orchestral music, especially the symphonies. However, further investigation shows that the influence went both ways. The quirky Jewish dances in the fourth movement of Shostakovich’s Second Trio may have been suggested by his acquaintance with Weinberg’s music. Then again, the Trio is also in part a threnody for the victims of the Holocaust; word of the Nazi death camps had reached Russia while Shostakovich was working on the piece in 1944. Even the layout of the work—with its ruminative opening movement and its “dance-of-death” Allegro second movement followed by a lamenting Largo—suggest that Shostakovich may have been thinking of Weinberg’s 1943 Trio, Op. 24, as he composed his own trio.

In any event, Weinberg’s work is a very individual one. It announces itself in the most emphatic of terms, with big double-stops on the violin, as the Präludium of the first movement unfolds in Baroque grandeur. The second movement is a brutal Toccata with banged chords amid frantic runs on the piano, brusque dotted rhythms and double-stops. The third movement, Poem, brings rhapsodic music-making and some repose, but the central section is again dominated by thundering piano chords and fevered trills in the strings. The Finale is a complex bit of musical architecture, beginning with troubled, questioning music that introduces another Baroque gesture: a big, robust fugue. The movement builds to a grand climax before subsiding into a reflective close based on the opening melody. Weinberg’s Trio has charted a remarkable journey before all is said and done.

Pretty remarkable, too, is Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1, the product of a mere slip of a boy, aged seventeen. Like the equally precocious First Symphony, it owes its chilly harmonic language to Scriabin, but the strange longing melodies that Shostakovich spins out mark him as a musical natural. As well as a young man in love: the trio was dedicated to one Tatyana Givenko, to whom Shostakovich lost his heart while convalescing in Crimea during the summer of 1924.

Quite a program, then, played with gusto and deep feeling by Trio Voce. Be forewarned, however, that if you listen to the program with your volume control set at normal listening levels, you may conclude the trio plays in too emphatic a style. Cutting back on the volume will bring a more healthy perspective to the proceedings. Con Brio’s recording is close-up, very high-level, imparting a hard edge to the instruments until you find just the right volume setting. I still had some trouble getting to a point where the piano wasn’t overpowered by the strings. However, the great music and fine performances make the effort of getting things just right worthwhile.

— Lee Passarella

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