Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8
Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, Op. 127 – Jennifer Zetlan (Soprano)
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67
Since there's nothing like kicking off yet another week with a little bit of challenging music, the always exciting Music Mondays series had programmed an all-Shostakovich concert for last Monday evening. So there. To make the event even more irresistible, it was going to be performed by the three remarkable ladies of the Claremont Trio accompanied by equally remarkable soprano Jennifer Zetlan. So there again. For all those reasons, my friend Angie and I decided to take advantage of the offer and joined the capacity crowd in the cozy little space of the Upper West Side’s Advent Lutheran Church, like the two adventurous, music-loving uptown girls that we are.
The first piece, the Piano Trio No. 1, which was composed by Shostakovich when he was 17 and later completed by a student of his, was relatively short, surprisingly Romantic and would probably qualify as easy listening when compared to the rest of his œuvre. The Claremont Trio played it gentle and warm, opening the concert with a nice introduction.
The mood changed radically with the next number though, as if to get right to the heart of the matter. "Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok" is a vocal-instrumental suite that spans a wide range of sounds, from a troop of loud soldiers and a raging storm to some sweet memories of love and the mystery of secret signs. For this work, the instrumental trio was joined by steadily-rising soprano Jennifer Zetlan, who definitely seems to have a robust knack for selecting and mastering highly demanding projects. Thankfully not attempting to tone down the often disturbing scores, she made excellent use of her starkly expressive voice and handled violent drama as easily as haunting dreaminess. The last vignette, in particular, "Music", turned out to be a little marvel in itself. Bringing all the performers together, it deftly evoked the many facets of the art form with a beautifully serene opening, which suddenly morphed into a powerful crescendo half-way through, before slowly ending in a delicate whisper.
The evening concluded with the most popular piece on the program by far, the Piano Trio No. 2, which Shostakovich wrote in the middle of his life, right after the death of a dear friend of his. Boasting dissonant sounds, dark melodies, macabre images, an unapologetically acerbic tone and an insistent staccato that just won't go away, this trio is fascinating for its complexity and uniqueness. The Claremont Trio delivered a clear and poised performance of it, unafraid of the work's potentially unattractive aspects and well aware of its unusually riveting qualities. And really, what's a little virtuosic spookiness on a cold winter Monday night?