Unlike Rachmaninov, who fled his native land for eternal exile, Shostakovich famously took the strain, just surviving under a system that deeply criticised any music it deemed anti-Soviet. Ironically, the
Second World War brought a common enemy, somewhat relieving the pressure on him; he produced many of his most iconic works at this time.
His second trio, with references to the countless Jewish victims in its finale, is such a piece, depicting all the sufferings and wildness of those turbulent years, but ending as it begins, in a kind of ethereal yearning. To begin, however, the Russian soprano, Ilona Domnich, will sing the Seven Romances with the piano trio from 1967 that were dedicated to the great Galina Vishnevskaya, who gave the premiere with her husband Mstislav Rostropovich playing the cello part. The pessimistic symbolist verses of Alexander Blok are communicated in a strikingly economical manner; not here is Shostakovich’s meaning at all ambiguous – it hits home decisively. Perhaps it is quite fitting that we close our series with Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque Op 9, the composer remarked, “after the trio, there must be nothing else, because it is so long and grave”(!). Such was his idolization of Tchaikovsky, that on hearing of his death in 1893; Rachmaninov plunged into the composition of this piece, modelling it on his hero’s recent trio in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein. The responsibility he felt must have been enormous; he “trembled for every phrase, sometimes crossed out absolutely everything…”