Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No 2 in E Minor

Maestro Guillermo Figueroa @ Congregation B'nai Israel: As Abq Jew has mentioned  in The Big Event 2013 (and may mention a few more times), “An Evening with Maestro Guillermo Figueroa”  at Congregation B'nai Israel on January 20 will provide an evening of beautiful music and fine dining for Albuquerqueans.

The concert program will feature the Piano Trio No 2 in E Minor (Opus 67) by Dmitri Shostakovich. Wikipedia (of course) provides some background on this composition, from which the following has been adapted.
Dmitri Shostakovich wrote this Piano Trio in 1944, in the midst of World War II. 
The composition was dedicated to Shostakovich's good friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a Russian polymath and avid musician, who had recently died at age 41.
The work received its premiere in Leningrad on 14 November 1944. 
The piece consists of four movements:
  1. Andante.  Highly dissonant, it begins with an incredibly difficult passage in the cello, all harmonics. The rest of the movement is a mad fugue, requiring incredible amounts of technical prowess from all three instruments
  2. Allegro con brio.  A frenzied dance that never finds a settling place
  3. Largo.  Against a repeated background of piano chords, the violin and cello trade off dark, slow, and somber melodic lines. It fades into the last movement with hardly a break.
  4. Allegretto.  Staccato repeated notes begin this "Dance of Death" movement, which introduces a Jewish-style melody, and revisits the thematic content of the previous three movements. It ends in a tortured E Major chord, almost inaudibly.
To give you a prehearing (preview does not appear to be the right word here), here is the fourth movement of the Piano Trio. The performers are Oleg Kagan (Violin) and Sviatoslav Richter (Piano); and lehavdil Natalia Gutman (Cello).

By August of 1944, Russian troops had liberated some of the Nazi death camps - and news about the Holocaust had started to spread. Shostakovich was very grieved.

He wrote the final two movements of the Piano Trio as an elegy to the Jews killed in the Holocaust, and uses Jewish folk music as thematic material for this very moving ending.

In her book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Elizabeth Wilson  writes
The intonations of Jewish folk music appealed to the composer. As Shostakovich explained, ‘the distinguishing feature of Jewish music is the ability to build a jolly melody on sad intonations. Why does a man strike up a jolly song? Because he feels sad at heart.'
And if you'd like to hear Shostakovich himself perform this piece ... The Figueroa Project has just posted this video on their Facebook page!

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