Shostakovich – Piano Trios 1 & 2, Viola Sonata

Ashkenazy

Visontay, Lidström, Meinich

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano
Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, violin
Mats Lidström, cello
Ada Meinich, viola

Decca, 2016

Tracklist and more details

Piano Trios & Viola Sonatas: Compositional History

The first feature to point out in the present recording is that it covers Shostakovich’s entire career. In fact, as the Piano Trio No. 1 is a juvenile work written when the composer was in his teens, the Piano Trio No. 2 dates to the war years and the Viola Sonata belongs to the end of Shostakovich’s life, as he completed it few weeks before his death.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor reminds of Shostakovich’s love for Tatyana Glivenko, the girl he met in Crimea while recovering from tuberculosis. The Trio was composed in 1923 and its original title, Poème, reveals its Romantic nature but not its irony, already close to that of Shostakovich’s later works.

The Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor was started in the late autumn of 1943, after Shostakovich had moved from Leningrad to Moscow. The dedicatee of the Trio is Shostakovich’s friend Ivan Sollertinsky, who had recently died, but it commemorates also his pupil Fleischmann, who had died at front. The Trio premiered in Leningrad in 1944.

Finally, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, is Shostakovich’s last composition, completed in July 1975. Its dedicatee is Fyodor Druzhinin, violist in the Beethoven Quartet since 1964. The Viola Sonata received its premiere posthumously, in October 1975.

Piano Trios & Viola Sonatas: the Performance

On the cover, the name of Vladimir Ashkenazy stands out in very large letters in comparison with those of the other three performers, but this does not reflect the content of the album. Ashkenazy is at most primus inter pares, though he is the only performer who plays in all three works. However, he never steals the scene and actually one of the qualities of this recording is the harmonious playing of the musicians. Also, despite the fact that this is a studio recording, the performances of the three works are as energetic and lively as in a live recording.

Piano Trio No. 1

Ashkenazy, with violinist Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay and cellist Mats Lidström (with whom Ashkenazy recorded his Rigoletto Fantasy and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto) play the Piano Trios. Of the two, the most vivacious is the first. On this, comparatively short piece, the three performers are able to highlight the verve and subtle irony, which is particularly manifest in the violin, while the piano and cello echoes it in different ways – with elegance the former and with discretion the latter.

Piano Trio No. 2

The second Piano Trio (in four movements) is more complex and varied, but Ashkenazy, Visontay and Lidström effectively give prominence to its embittered character. In the first movement, the cello is lyrical and yet evanescent, the violin is high-spirited and the piano depicts colourful melodies. The three instruments launch into the second movement (which is a portrait of Shostakovich’s late friend) with flamboyant exuberance. The last two movements are low-spirited in different ways: the third is remarkable for the sadness which emanates from the piano, while the fourth is immutably ironic.

Viola Sonata

Viola Sonata Ashkenazy performs the Viola Sonata with Ada Meinich. The last work is pathos without tragedy. In this plain and yet invariable feeling lies its strength. While Ashkenazy’s playing is generous and its bright colours are magnificent, Meinich’s performance is expressive and warm, delivered with infallible technical assurance.

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