Legendary Treasures - Piano Trios / Gilels, Kogan, Et Al

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BEETHOVEN Piano Trios: in B?, “Archduke”; 1 in E?, WoO 38. 1 MOZART Piano Trios: in B?, K 254; 1 in G, K 564. 1 HAYDN Piano Trios: 1 in D, Hob XV:16; in g, Hob XV:19. TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Trio in a, op. 50. 1 SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Trio in e, op. 67. 1 SAINT-SAËNS Piano Trio in F, op. 18. 1 SCHUMANN Piano Trio in d, op. 63. 1 BORODIN Piano Trio, in D. 2 FAURÉ Piano Quartet, op. 15. 3 BRAHMS Trio for Piano, Violin, and Horn, op. 40 4 Emil Gilels (pn); 1,2,3,4 Leonid Kogan (vn); 1,3,4 Mstislav Rostropovich (vc); 1,3 Dmitry Tziganov (vn); 2 Sergei Shirinsky (vc); 2 Rudolf Barshai (va); 3 Yakov Shapiro (hn) 4 DOREMI 7921 (5 CDs: 344:47)

This impressive five-CD set from DOREMI presents a fascinating portrait of a splendid Soviet-era ensemble, whose members—pianist Emil Gilels, violinist Leonid Kogan, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich—collaborated for more than a decade beginning in 1949. They are joined by violist Rudolf Barshai (with whom Kogan and Rostropovich formed a String Trio during the 1950s) in the first Fauré Quartet, and the horn-player Yakov Shapiro joins Gilels and Kogan in the Brahms Trio. The Borodin Trio that rounds out the set features Gilels with two of his earlier chamber music partners, violinist Dmitry Tziganov and cellist Sergei Shirinsky, both members of the Beethoven Quartet.

The least of these performances are very good and the best of them nothing short of brilliant. The “Archduke” Trio must be one of the finest on record. In the first movement development, the juxtaposition of string pizzicatos with the piano’s trills creates an uncanny, otherworldly atmosphere. When the recapitulation finally arrives, it seems not just a satisfying homecoming, but a deliverance from the outer realms of abstraction. The ensemble finesse in the Scherzo is breathtaking, while the spiritual depths of the unique Andante cantabile are plumbed with grace and reverence. The same sort of Apollonian approach that makes this reading of the “Archduke” so successful is applied to the Tchaikovsky trio, with stunning results. Even some of the most celebrated performances of this difficult work (the Rubinstein/Heifetz/Piatigorsky, RCA 63025 among them) narrowly skirt the maudlin. Here, however, the three Russians bring a sincerity and simplicity to Tchaikovsky’s every gesture, allowing his elegy for Nicolas Rubinstein to speak with eloquence, at once dignified, restrained, and heartfelt.

In the Schumann Trio, Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich achieve a prodigy of imaginative interpretation, all within the context of the most sophisticated and refined ensemble-playing. It is hard to imagine a more compelling conception of this impassioned score. They also approach Shostakovich’s eerily atmospheric Second Trio with the utmost conviction. The hectic second movement is a kinesthetic tour de force , while the finale’s unconventional oriental textures are deftly maneuvered to great effect.

Predictably, the Haydn and Mozart readings are less satisfactory. Generalizations are always dangerous, but perhaps it is not inaccurate to say that, prior to the inevitable cross-pollination with the West occurring during later decades through travel and recordings, Soviet musicians approached Haydn and Mozart with a prettified delicacy. The results can often sound mannered, if not downright bloodless, and light years away from what we consider appropriate late-18th century style today. One case in point is the weepy vibrato Kogan employs in the sustained passages of the plaintive Andante opening of the Haydn G-Minor Trio; another is the flaccid Allegretto of the Mozart G-Major Trio, where phrase shapes are obliterated by an anachronistic effort to achieve the late-19th century ideal of the “long line.” Despite these reservations, even the 18th-century repertoire is of historical interest: this is the way this music was played behind the Iron Curtain in the years following WW II.

The sound of these recordings is consistent with the technological resources of Melodiya (the original issuing label) during the 1950s. Most were studio recordings, but some were live performances. One can discern the improvement of equipment and recording techniques between the earliest of the performances (the Tchaikovsky Trio, 1950) and the latest (the Shostakovich, 1959). Though the sound is flattened-out relative to modern standards, balances are superb, and no detail seems lost. The accompanying leaflet contains thumbnail bios of the principal artists as well as the works and timings, but no information on the matrices (beyond photographic reproductions of the record labels) or the transfer process. All in all, fascinating performances of representative repertoire by master musicians. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 07, 2007

  • Catalog Number: DHR-7921-5

  • UPC: 723721311353

  • Label: Doremi

  • Number of Discs: 5

  • Composer: Alexander Borodin, Camille Saint-Saëns, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Joseph Haydn, Gabriel Fauré, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Robert Schumann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Performer: Dmitri Tziganov, Emil Gilels, Jacov Shapiro, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Rudolf Barshai, Sergey Shirinsky