The booklet notes to this release have some background
information on Shostakovich, but strangely nothing specific about his Piano
Trio Op.67. The piece was written in 1944 an in an atmosphere of
agonies. The piece was written as a memorial for the musicologist Ivan
Sollertinski, who had been a close friend of the composer since the
1920s. At the same time, Shostakovich was expressing his feelings about
the war, and about the recently revealed news concerning Hitler’s systematic
destruction of ‘non-aryan’ peoples in the concentration camps.
The Arcadia Trio’s recording is very good indeed. The disturbing faux-wit in
the ‘danse macabre’ of the final movement – said to be an image of the Nazis
forcing victims to dance by their own graves before execution – has a dry punchiness
and weight which treads that fine line between dance and frogmarch. The stunningly
evocative slow movement, which has been suggested might have been inspired by
the Mahlerian influences introduced to Shostakovich by Sollertinski, has an appropriately
dominating place in the proportions of the piece as a whole, and the playing
is expressive and deeply felt throughout.
A music historian as well as composer, Krzysztof Meyer is the author of the first
Polish monograph on the life and work of Dmitri Shostakovich (PWM 1973), and
so the placing of his Piano Trio op.50 next to Shostakovich’s op.67 is
logical. Born in Cracow, he studied there until graduating in 1965 from the class
of Krzysztof Penderecki, also studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris during the
1960s. After having made this recording, the Arcadia Trio also gave the first
American performance of the work in 1997 at the Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie
Hall), in Manhattan.
Krzysztof Meyer writes a useful programme note in the booklet, providing some
guiding pointers and analytical features of the work. Despite being atonal in
thematic conception, the five movements have references to recognisable pitch
centres and possess a feeling of logic and strength, being expressive of human
emotion in its contrasts of mood and texture. The first, relatively brief Impetuoso movement
is fiery and powerful, and the second Adagio inquieto which runs on straight
afterwards maintains a gritty menace. The third Allegretto capriccioso movement
gives an initially lighter, almost scherzo impression with its fleeting pizzicati,
but the weightier thread soon kicks in to keep our feet firmly on the ground.
There are several ‘fingerprints’ from the elder master to be found in this work,
but the fourth Cantabile e furioso has the most Shostakovich-like feel
for me, with descending chromaticisms which bring some of those string quartet
resonances to mind. The final Con moto movement is at over thirteen minutes
by for the longest, being an extended passacaglia which ultimately recapitulates
material from all of the previous movements. Krzysztof Meyer’s op.50 Trio is
a genuinely powerful composition of which I am glad to have made acquaintance,
and to which I have no doubt I shall be returning often in the future.
There are of course a number of alternative recordings for Shostakovich’s op.67
in the catalogue, and many seeking it out will already have gone for an all-Shostakovich
programme. Shostakovich’s own famous 1947 recording is of course a must, re-released
not so very long ago on the Symposium label, but collectors interested in Meyer’s
op.50 won’t be disappointed with this coupling, which – while leaving a fairly
doom-laden and gloomily serious impression – nonetheless has my thorough recommendation.