A Superb Trio of Russians, Alive Again on CD

I rarely blog about a single recording, or set of recordings, but in recent months I have been immersing myself in an utterly remarkable demonstration of great chamber music playing, and I can't resist sharing it with you. It is a five-CD set (DHR-7921-5) from Doremi, a label that specializes in reissuing recordings of special interest. This set is built around the trio formed by pianist Emil Gilels, violinist Leonid Kogan, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This group stayed together for most of the 1950s, and broke up largely because Kogan and Rostropovich had very strong political differences and could not continue to get along. What a pity--I'm not sure there has ever been a more spectacular chamber ensemble. What you have here are three virtuosos, each with independent careers on a superstar level, but matching their musical personalities to perform as if they were one person. 
The set includes three Haydn and two Mozart trios, none of which are performed in what we would today consider the appropriate "classical" style, but all of which are played with an old-fashioned love and warmth that I cannot resist, as well as a surprising lightness of touch. But after that come some of the greatest chamber music recordings ever made--particularly Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio, Tchaikovsky's A Minor Piano Trio, and Schumann's in D Minor. Each of these performances embodies the ideal principles of chamber music: great musicians carefully listening to each other, matching their sounds and phrasing and inflection perfectly and retaining their individual personalities while still blending in. The huge second movement of the Tchaikovsky, a remarkable set of variations on a theme, demonstrates the strengths of this ensemble perfectly. Daniel Barenboim once said that the ideal orchestra plays as if "with one lung," and so it is throughout this set.

Then comes one of the greatest 20th-century chamber works: the Shostakovich E Minor Piano Trio, a tortured, haunting piece that the group recorded in 1959 near the end of its existence. It is one of those performances that leaves the listener emotionally exhausted and drained--a truly transformational listening experience. Remember, all three of these musicians knew Shostakovich and loved him deeply.

Doremi has added a disc to the set of other chamber performances--a Fauré Piano Quartet with Barshai joining the trio, a Borodin Piano Trio with Gilels and two different string players, and a Brahms Horn Trio with Gilels, Kogan, and Yakov Shapiro.

The word "historic" gets bandied about a lot, and far too many recordings have been labeled as historic when in fact they are merely old. But it is performances like the ones heard on this set that define the importance of having recorded documentation. Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich play every piece with a focus and intensity that make us feel privileged to be allowed to listen in. It is true greatness, preserved for all time, so any generation in the future can know what is possible by way of human achievement.
September 11, 2009 11:07 AM | | Comments (3)

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> Then comes one of the greatest 20th-century
> chamber works: the Shostakovich E Minor Piano
> Trio, a tortured, haunting piece ... It is one
> of those performances that leaves the listener
> emotionally exhausted and drained--a truly
> transformational listening experience.

Boy Henry, you got that right. I just listened to this now and it goes straight to the top, and I have more performances of this work than I can name. Thanks again for recommending this whole set. Listened to one Haydn, the Beethoven Archdduke, the Schumann and the DSCH so far and I'm in heaven. And I got the whole thing for just $15! What a deal.

Henry, thanks for the rec. It's already on order. Can't wait.

Hear, hear. I remember forgetting to breathe a couple of times while listening to that set.

But I don't have my own copy (I was listening to yours, actually :-) ).

The Doremi web site is a bit useless for actually purchasing things, and their recommended U.S. distributor (Allegro) appears not to carry this set, and arkivmusic.comu appears to be not responding at the moment (hmm). Do you know of any link where this set can be ordered?

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This page contains a single entry by on the record published on September 11, 2009 11:07 AM.

Classical Music: Transformative, Not Tranquilizing was the previous entry in this blog.

"Historically Informed" Performance: Who Says, and Why Must It Be So? is the next entry in this blog.

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