Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chamber Music Masters of the Soviet Era on DOREMI

DOREMI is a label, distributed in the United States by Naxos of America, that specializes in the restoration and presentation of historic recordings. I recently encountered these efforts through a five-CD box set based primarily on trio performances by pianist Emil Gilels, violinist Leonid Kogan, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, released as part of a series called Legendary Treasures:

These three musicians performed as a piano trio between 1949 and 1959, meaning that they predate the Beaux Arts Trio by about half a decade. The group disbanded in 1959 for “personal reasons” that may well have had more to do with Soviet reaction to Rostropovich’s political activities than with any personal disagreements among the trio members.

The recordings on this album were originally released as LPs by Melodiya. The recordings were made between 1950 and 1955; and, as might be guessed, they are all monaural. DOREMI has done an excellent job in remastering the sources. The only significant change in personnel comes with Gilels performing Alexander Borodin’s piano trio with violinist Dmitry Tzyganov and cellist Sergei Shirinsky (both founding members of the Beethoven Quartet), rather than Kogan and Rostropovich. This recording is on the final CD in the collection, which also includes violist Rudolf Barshai joining Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich for a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 15 (first) piano quartet in C minor and Yakov Shapiro playing horn with Gilels and Kogan in Johannes Brahms’ Opus 40 horn trio in D minor.

Most important is that the value of these recordings is definitely more than historical. Each of the selections allows the attentive listener to experience chamber music at its most intimate. This may even involve having new thoughts about how these three players approached performance. Thus, Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XV/16 piano trio in D major (which is represented by two recordings) is impressively gracious and light in its rhetoric, attributes that are not always associated with Russian virtuoso musicians!

Mind you, Russian rhetoric is far from neglected in this collection. If the sound quality of the performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 50 trio in A minor is not “the highest fi of them all,” the rhetorical intensity of the three players more than makes up for any acoustic shortcomings. Indeed, that intensity is even stronger in their performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 67 (second) trio in E minor, probably because all three of them had lived through the same Second World War horrors that Shostakovich had endured.

Listen to the music, rather than the recording technology; and you will not fail to be well rewarded!

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